Richard Payne is a historian of the Iranian world in late antiquity, ca. 200–800 CE. His research focuses primarily on the dynamics of Iranian imperialism, specifically how the Iranian (or Sasanian) Empire successfully integrated socially, culturally, and geographically disparate populations from Arabia to Afghanistan into enduring political networks and institutions. His recent book, A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity, explores the problem of religious diversity within the empire, showing how Syriac-writing Christians could create a place for themselves in a political culture not of their own making. For A State of Mixture, Payne received the Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History from the American Philosophical Society, the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion from the American Academy of Religion, the Ehsan Yarshater Prize from the International Society for Iranian Studies, an honorable mention from the Middle East Studies Association, and the World Award for Book of the Year of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
He is currently at work on the role of the Zoroastrian religion and the idea of an Iranian ethnicity in the making of an empire. He also maintains interests in the social history of Christian and Zoroastrian communities in the early Islamic world, the interaction of the Middle East with Central and Inner Asia, and the comparative study of ancient empires in the Middle East and the Mediterranean from the Akkadians to the Romans.
He heads the Chicago Initiative for Global Late Antiquity, whose aim is to advance trans-regional, trans-cultural approaches to the study of the first millennium CE.
Recent & Regularly Taught Courses
- NEHC 20721-20722/30721-30722 Iranian Political Culture I-II
- NEAA 40024 Nomads, Networks and Political Complexity in the Ancient Near East.
- NEHC 20600/30600 Saints and Sinners: Christianity in the Ancient Near East.