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Book: Theorizing Religion in Antiquity

Chapter: 6. Impiety and Versions of Rationalization of Religion in Classical Greece

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.27966


In Classical Greece some thinkers (Critias, Prodicus, Democritus) formulated theories about the origins of religion and/or the gods that accounted for religious belief in terms that today qualify as ‟reductionist” explanations. None of these theories represented a direct attack on Greek religion nor propounded explicit atheism, nonetheless for one reason or another they did imply a challenge to traditional religious sentiment. This essay explores the theoretical implications of these theories and argues that it was not because of their atheism that they provoked religious sentiment, but because they accounted for religious belief in terms of some ideological function. Traditional Greek religion, however, was distinctly non-ideological in many ways. Reductionist theories of the Greek Enlightenment resulted from the projection of a reductive conception of the human-human and the human-divine relationship onto Greek religion that misrepresented fundamental aspects of Greek piety.

Chapter Contributors

  • Emese Mogyoródi ( - emogyorodi) 'University of Szeged, Hungary'