Emma studied for a BA in History and History of Art at the University of York (1991-1994), where she specialised in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. She then worked back in time and took an MA (1994-1995) in Classical and Byzantine Art at the Courtauld Institute, University of London. It was during her MA that she discovered Late Antique Syria, which became the subject of her PhD thesis at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.
After graduating from SOAS in February 2001 she spent three years living and working as an archaeologist, fund-raiser, secretary and potato-peeler for the Community of Al-Khalil at Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi in Syria. The Community is dedicated to hospitality and Christian-Islamic dialogue and she spent the summers directing an archaeological excavation for the Community at their other monastery, Deir Mar Elian in Qaryatayn, and the rest of the year dealing with all English correspondence, greeting guests and helping with general chores (hence potato-peeling). During this period she was a visiting lecturer at SOAS and at the Université Saint Esprit de Kaslik in Lebanon. She also worked for the Abu Dhabi Ministry of Information as an archaeologist studying the artefacts found at a sixth-century monastery on the island of Sir Bani Yas.
In January 2004 she took up a position teaching Oriental Christian and Islamic Art at the University of Manchester and in 2010 she was appointed Senior Lecturer. During this time she was also a visiting lecturer at the Art University of Isfahan, Iran, the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Georgia, the University of Tehran, the Teacher Training University of Tehran and the Amirkabir Polytechnic College, Tehran, Iran
She joined the University of Exeter as an Associate Professor in April 2013 and from November 2012 has been working on a five-year European Research Council funded project entitled Architecture and Asceticism: Cultural Interaction between Syria and Georgia in Late Antiquity exploring the purported Syrian evangelisation of Georgia in the fifth century and seeking to answer why the Georgians left the Oriental Orthodox fold to join with the Constantinopolitan Church in the early seventh century.