Karen Sonik is a cultural historian whose interdisciplinary work examines themes of metamorphosis and identity as they pertain to the visual and literary arts of the ancient Near East.
Her research focuses on Mesopotamia, where the first cities arose, and, more broadly, on ancient and non-Western cultural frameworks. A primary strand of recent research explores issues pertaining to the authenticity, identity, and aesthetic value of ancient and non-Western things from cult statues and divine images to cosmetic containers. A second strand of her work has examined constructions of outsiders and Others (with a focus on women, monsters, and demons) in the arts of the first cities. Related research pursues issues of identity and representation in the extant literature of Mesopotamia, with an emphasis on character and characterization. Her current book project, taking up the question of what it meant to be human in the world’s first cities, draws on developing research into the emotions, the senses, and aesthetics at the dawn of urban civilization.
Her research has been supported by organizations including the American Philosophical Society, the American Council for Learned Societies, and the Kolb Foundation, and she has been a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School; a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles; a postdoctoral fellow in Egyptology & Ancient Western Asian Studies at Brown University; and a visiting research scholar at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University. She is currently Associate Professor in the department of Art and Art History at Auburn University.
- Art/ifacts and ArtWorks in the Ancient World. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2021.
- Journey to the City: A Companion to the Middle East Galleries at the Penn Museum (with S. Tinney). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019.
- The Materiality of Divine Agency (with B. Pongratz-Leisten). Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015.
- A Common Cultural Heritage: Studies in the Mesopotamian & the Biblical World in Honor of Barry L. Eichler (with G. Frame, E. Leichty, J. H. Tigay, and S. Tinney). Bethesda: CDL Press, 2011.
- “Minor and Marginal(ized)? Re-Thinking Women as Minor Characters in the SB Epic of Gilgamesh.” Journal of the American Oriental Society (forthcoming).
- “The Distant Eye and the Ekphrastic Image: Thinking Through Aesthetics and Art for the Senses (Western | Non-Western).” In The Routledge Handbook of the Senses in the Ancient Near East, ed. Kiersten Neumann and Allison Thomason, 530–57. New York: Routledge, forthcoming (2021).
- “The Ancient Near East: Western | Non-Western.” In Art/ifacts and ArtWorks in the Ancient World, ed. Karen Sonik, xxix–xl. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021.
- “Art/ifacts and ArtWorks: De-Colonizing the Study and Museum Display of Ancient and Non-Western Things.” In Art/ifacts and ArtWorks in the Ancient World, ed. Karen Sonik, 1–82. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021.
- “Entangled Images: Royal Memory, Posthumous Presence, and the Afterlives of Assyrian Rock Reliefs” (with D. Kertai). In Afterlives of Ancient Rock-Cut Monuments in the Near East: Carvings In and Out of Time, ed. Jonathan Ben-Dov and Felipe Rojas, 39–68. Leiden: Brill, 2021.
- “Gilgamesh and Emotional Excess: The King Without Counsel in the SB Gilgamesh Epic.” In The Expression of Emotions in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, ed. Jaume Llop Raduà and Shi-Wei Hsu, 390–409. Leiden: Brill, 2020.
- Slingerland, E., M. W. Monroe, B. Sullivan, R. F. Walsh, D. Veidlinger, W. Noseworthy, C. Herriott, B. Raffield, J. L. Peterson, G. Rodríguez, K. Sonik, W. Green, F. S. Tappenden, A. Ashtari, M. Muthukrishna, R. Spicer. 2018–2019. “Historians Respond to Whitehouse et al. (2019), “Complex Societies Precede Moralizing Gods Throughout World History.” Journal of Cognitive Historiography 5 (1-2): 1–16.
- “Emotion and the Ancient Arts: Visualizing, Materializing, and Producing States of Being.” In Visualizing Emotions in the Ancient Near East, ed. Sara Kipfer, 219–261. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017.
- “Divine (Re-)Presentation: Authoritative Images and a Pictorial Stream of Tradition in Mesopotamia.” In The Materiality of Divine Agency, ed. Beate Pongratz-Leisten and Karen Sonik, 142–193. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015.
- “Between Cognition and Culture: Theorizing the Materiality of Divine Agency in Cross-Cultural Perspective” (with B. Pongratz-Leisten). In The Materiality of Divine Agency, ed. Beate Pongratz-Leisten and Karen Sonik, 3–69. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015.
- “Hand of God.” In Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception 11: 183–184. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015.
- “Pictorial Mythology and Narrative in the Ancient Near East.” In Critical Approaches to Ancient Near Eastern Art, ed. Marian Feldman and Brian Brown, 265–293. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014.
- “The Monster’s Gaze: Vision as Mediator Between Time and Space in the Art of Mesopotamia.” In Time and History in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the 56th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale at Barcelona, 26–30 July 2010, ed. Lluís Feliu, Jaume Llop, Adelina Millet Albà, and Joaqín Sanmartín, 285–300. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2013.
- “Mesopotamian Conceptions of the Supernatural: A Taxonomy of Zwischenwesen.” Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 14 (2013): 103–116.
- “From Hesiod’s Abyss to Ovid’s rudis indigestaque moles: Chaos and Cosmos in the Babylonian Epic of Creation.” In Creation and Chaos: A Reconsideration of Gunkel’s Chaoskampf Hypothesis, ed. JoAnn Scurlock and Richard Beal, 1–25. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2013.
- “Demons, Ancient Near East.” In Encyclopedia of Ancient History, edited by Roger Bagnall, Kai Brodersen, Craige B. Champion, Andrew Erskine, and Sabine R. Huebner, 2019. London: Wiley Blackwell, 2013.
- “Tiamat.” In Encyclopedia of Ancient History, edited by Roger Bagnall, Kai Brodersen, Craige B. Champion, Andrew Erskine, and Sabine R. Huebner, 6741–6742. London: Wiley Blackwell, 2013.
- “Breaching the Boundaries of Being: Metamorphoses in the Mesopotamian Literary Texts.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 132.3 (2012): 385–393.
- “The Tablet of Destinies and the Transmission of Power in Mesopotamian Myth.” In Organization, Representation, and Symbols of Power: Proceedings of the 54th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale at Würzburg, ed. Gernot Wilhelm, 387–395. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012.
- “Gender Matters in Enuma eliš.” In In the Wake of Tikva Frymer-Kensky, edited by Richard H. Beal, Steven W. Holloway, and JoAnn Scurlock, 85–101. Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2009.
- “Bad King, False King, True King: Apsû and His Heirs.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 128.4 (2008): 737–743.