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'Religion in the making: the Lived Ancient Religion approach'

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 2:03 am
by MrMacSon
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:
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Re: 'Religion in the making: the Lived Ancient Religion approach'

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 6:32 pm
by MrMacSon
This recent Aeon article - 'Is religion a universal in human culture or an academic invention?' - provides interesting commentary which, in part, seems to align with what this group is proposing, and what Jörg Rüpke is proposing in 'Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion', 2018.

the late Jonathan Zittell Smith, arguably the most influential scholar of religion of the past half-century, [declared] in his book Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown (1982) that ‘religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s study’, and that it has ‘no independent existence apart from the academy’?

... the category of ‘religion’ emerges only through second-order acts of classification and comparison. ... -invention
The author of the Aeon article, Brett Colasacco, is probably not referring to the development of religion, as Rüpke and his group is, but these comments seems to reflect aspects of what they have been saying.
When Smith entered the field in the late 1960s, the academic study of religion was still quite young. In the United States, the discipline had been significantly shaped by the Romanian historian of religions Mircea Eliade, who, from 1957 until his death in 1986, taught at the University of Chicago Divinity School. There, Eliade trained a generation of scholars in the approach to religious studies that he had already developed in Europe.

What characterised religion, for Eliade, was ‘the sacred’ – the ultimate source of all reality. Simply put, the sacred was ‘the opposite of the profane’. Yet the sacred could ‘irrupt’ into profane existence in a number of predictable ways across archaic cultures and histories. Sky and earth deities were ubiquitous, for example; the Sun and Moon served as representations of rational power and cyclicality; certain stones were regarded as sacred; and water was seen as a source of potentiality and regeneration.

Eliade also developed the concepts of ‘sacred time’ and ‘sacred space’. According to Eliade, archaic man, or Homo religiosus, always told stories of what the gods did ‘in the beginning’. They consecrated time through repetitions of these cosmogonic myths, and dedicated sacred spaces according to their relationship to the ‘symbolism of the Centre’. This included the ‘sacred mountain’ or axis mundi – the archetypal point of intersection between the sacred and the profane – but also holy cities, palaces and temples. The exact myths, rituals and places were culturally and historically specific, of course, but Eliade saw them as examples of a universal pattern.

Smith was profoundly influenced by Eliade. As a graduate student, he set out to read nearly every work cited in the bibliographies of Eliade’s magnum opus, Patterns in Comparative Religion (1958). Smith’s move to join the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1968-69, he admitted, was motivated in part by a desire to work alongside his ‘master’. However, he soon began to set out his own intellectual agenda, which put him at odds with Eliade’s paradigm.

First, Smith challenged whether the Eliadean constructions of sacred time and sacred space were truly universal. He did not deny that these constructs mapped onto some archaic cultures quite well. But in his early essay ‘The Wobbling Pivot’ (1972), Smith noted that some cultures aspired to explode or escape from space and time, rather than revere or reify them. (Think of the various schools of Gnosticism that thrived during the first two centuries CE, which held that the material world was the work of a flawed, even malevolent spirit known as the demiurge, who was inferior to the true, hidden god.) Smith distinguished these ‘utopian’ patterns, which seek the sacred outside the prevailing natural and social order, from the ‘locative’ ones described by Eliade, which reinforce it – a move that undercut Eliade’s universalist vocabulary.

Second, Smith introduced a new self-awareness and humility to the study of religion. In the essay ‘Adde Parvum Parvo Magnus Acervus Erit’ (1971) – the title a quotation from Ovid, meaning ‘add a little to a little and there will be a great heap’ – Smith showed how comparisons of ‘religious’ data are laced with political and ideological values ...

Behind Smith’s work was the motivating thesis that no theory or method for studying religion can be purely objective. Rather, the classifying devices we apply to decide whether something is ‘religious’ or not always rely on pre-existing norms. The selective taxonomy of ‘religious’ data from across cultures, histories and societies, Smith argued, is therefore a result of the scholar’s ‘imaginative acts of comparison and generalisation’. Where once we had the self-evident, universal phenomenon of religion, all that is left is a patchwork of particular beliefs, practices and experiences.

... As Smith wrote in the introduction to Imagining Religion: ‘while there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterised in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as religious – there is no data for religion’. There might be evidence for various expressions of Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and so forth. But these become ‘religions’ only through second-order, scholarly reflection. ... -invention

Re: 'Religion in the making: the Lived Ancient Religion approach'

Posted: Fri Aug 31, 2018 12:18 am
by MrMacSon