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Book: Theorizing Religion in Antiquity

Chapter: 7. Theorizing About (Which?) Origins: Herodotus on the Gods

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.27967


Modern theories of religion are preoccupied with the questions of origin and function of religion. By 'origin' theorists refer to the questions of when, why, and how religion originates, either historically i.e., the first time in history that religion appearsor recurrently i.e., every time that religion appears in a given culture, setting, geographical area, etc. Although this explanatory exercise is deemed modern, it nevertheless preoccupied ancient authors as well. Among the most notable ancient attempts to explain the origins of the gods (and, thus, religion) is the Histories of Hedorotus, the often deemed father of history. The main interpretative approach taken by classicists, historians, and religious studies scholars is the assignment of a diffusionism theory to Herodotus. In this essay, this explanation is challenged by a closer reading of the Histories and Herodotus's goal.

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