Religion in the making: the Lived Ancient Religion approach Religion [journal]
- Janico Albrecht, Christopher Degelmann, Valentino Gasparini, Richard Gordon, Maik Patzelt, Georgia Petridou, Rubina Raja ORCID Icon, Anna-Katharina Rieger, Jörg Rüpke, Benjamin Sippel, Emiliano Rubens Urciuoli and Lara Weiss.
Published online: 22 Mar 2018.
For the past five years (2012–2017), the Max Weber Center of Erfurt University has hosted a project on ‘Lived Ancient Religion: Questioning “cults” and “polis religion”’... embedded in the research group on ‘Religious individualisation in historical perspective’ (see Fuchs and Rüpke. [2015. “Religious Individualisation in Historical Perspective.” Religion 45 (3): 323–329. doi:10.1080/0048721X.2015.1041795]). It was designed to supplement existing accounts of the religious history of the Mediterranean area at the time of the long Roman Empire, accounts traditionally centred upon public or civic institutions.
The new model focuses on the interaction of individuals with a variety of religious specialists and traditions, taking the form of material culture, spaces and text. It emphasises religious experience, embodiment and ‘culture in interaction’. On the basis of research into the history of religion of the Roman Empire, this co-authored article sets out to offer new tools for research into religion by formulating three major perspectives, namely religious agency, instantiated religion and narrated religion. We have tried to illustrate their potential value by means of 13 short case studies deriving from different geographical areas of the central and eastern Mediterranean area, and almost all relating to the period 150 BCE to 300 CE ...
The aspirations of the LAR project
The initial formulation of the Lived Ancient Religion project (‘LAR’, cf. Rüpke 2011b) was a proposal about how one might re-think the conceptualisation of the vast, amorphous, heterogeneous body of material that bears upon what is conventionally known as ‘the religion of the Roman Empire’. The very topic had itself hardly existed before the 1980s, being regularly confused with ‘ancient Roman religion’ on the one hand, and the ‘Oriental religions of the Roman Empire’ on the other hand (Bonnet and Rüpke 2009; Rüpke 2011c). The initiative was grounded in three specific challenges to existing approaches:
- we criticise the implicit assumption that all inhabitants of the Empire, from the Republican ‘empire of booty’ to the supposedly Christianised empire of Theodosius I in the late 4th century CE, were equally religious (the ‘homo religiosus’ fallacy).
- We also question the focus upon civic, i.e., collective, institutionalised religious practices. This is vital because that focus produced a series of supplementary sub-categories (which are at the same time conceptual strategies), in order to grasp, but also exclude phenomena that were very present, but neither collective nor necessarily institutionalised. These categories, such as ‘mystery-religions’, ‘oriental cults’, ‘indigenous cults’, ‘votive religion’, ‘funerary rites’, admitted the phenomena, yet did not elucidate their relation to civic practice. Thus, they are sub-categories that are neither empirically convincing nor analytically adequate.
- Thirdly, we criticise the practice of treating ‘pagan’ religion, Judaism and Christianity as though they had existed historically in quite separate worlds – enshrined in a disciplinary division of labour that has been enforced since the rise of Neo-humanism in the late 18th century.