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Theorizing Religion in Antiquity

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This volume brings theoretical and methodological discussions from religious studies, ancient history, and classics to the study of ancient religions, thus attempting to bridge a disciplinary chasm often apparent in the study of religions in antiquity. It examines theoretical discourses on the specificity, origin, and function of ‘religion’ in antiquity, broadly defined here as the period from the 6th century BCE to the 4th century CE. In addition, it explores the crucial question of what is meant by the term ‘religion’ and its applicability when employed to describe traditions that antedate the historical periods known as the Enlightenment and the Reformation. Theorizing about religion is often seen as an accomplishment of modernity, neglecting the insights stemming from the ‘pre-modern’ period. The contributors to this volume offer detailed discussions and links between how the ancients theorized about their religions and how modern scholars discuss about such discourses in their academic environments.

Published: May 13, 2019

Book Contributors


Section Chapter Authors
Editor's Preface Nickolas Roubekas
1. The Present and Future of Ancient Religion Brent Nongbri
Part I: From Language to Method
2. Our Language and Theirs: "Religious" Categories and Identities Steve Mason
3. The Value(s) of Belief: Ancient Religion, Cognitive Science and Interdisciplinarity Jason Davies
4. Imagining Religion in Antiquity: A How To Kevin Schilbrack
Part II: The Greek World
5. Philosophical Reflections on the Presocratics: A Contribution to the Scientific Study of Religion Donald Wiebe
6. Impiety and Versions of Rationalization of Religion in Classical Greece Emese Mogyoródi
7. Theorizing About (Which?) Origins: Herodotus on the Gods Nickolas Roubekas
Part III: From Mesopotamia to Rome
8. Ancient Mesopotamian Scholars, Ritual Speech and Theorizing Religion without "Theory" or "Religion" Alan Lenzi
9. Magic and Religion in Ancient Egypt Rita Lucarelli
10. Manipulating "Religion": The Egyptian ‘Theologoumena’ in Diodorus Siculus Panayotis Pachis
11. Metaphor and Religion in Ancient Rome Spencer Cole
Part IV: From Judaism to Christianity
12. Defining Judaism: The Case of Philo Michael Satlow
13. Religion, Geography, and the Impossibility of Jewish Identity Sarah Imhoff
14. Whither Shall we Go? Tertullian and Christian Identity Formation Nickolas Roubekas
15. The Anachronism of "Early Christian Communities" Sarah Rollens
Part V: Topics in the Study of (Ancient) Religion
16. Cognitive Study of (Ancient) Religions Leonardo Ambasciano
17. Cultural Geography Justin Tse
18. Texts James Crossley
19. Gender Irene Salvo
20. Epilogue: The Jabberwocky Dilemma - Take Religion for Example Luther Martin
End Matter
Index Nickolas Roubekas


Theorizing “Religion” in Antiquity is a formidable accomplishment, bringing together scholars from various disciplines, convincing them to reflect on their usage of concepts like “religion,” and applying a self-critical perspective throughout. One critical remark, here hardly at the right place, is that I hope that “theorizing” ancient religion will come to involve more than the current definition-and-applicability-debate. For now, this volume models the type of conversations we should be having within the study of ancient religion(s)—and beyond. As such, it is highly recommended.
Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses

This volume raises a great many important and substantial questions regarding the nature of our evidence for ‘religion’, the character of our critical language, and the scope of divides in humanistic disciplines dedicated to the study of ancient religions. It is clear that we need to talk more to each other. We might as well start by listening carefully to what this insightful, irritating, intelligent and genuinely path-breaking and bridge-building volume has to say.
Greece & Rome

This book is important for its theoretical scope and the various perspectives it offers on the topic of ‘religion’ in antiquity. It is a multi‐authored volume susceptible to irritate readers looking for coherent conclusions, but it will excite researchers who have wondered about the vast possibilities to explore both from classics/ancient history and from religious studies scholars.
Theorizing ‘Religion’ in Antiquity is extremely rich in the analysis it offers and the topics it presents. It moves beyond the artificial divide of classics, ancient history, and religious studies.
Reviews in Religion and Theology

[We] conclude that the publication is highly recommended for those who seek to delve into the complex study of “religion”, especially for those researchers whose work focuses on the religiosities of the ancient world.
ARYS Journal

The volume is important in embodying the interdisciplinarity, fault lines of disagreement and difference, and distinctive methods with which scholars come to “religion” in (only) Western antiquity. In this regard, this volume is at least a should-read for students of ancient religion.
Reading Religion