Thursday, May 28, 2009


What's religious about ancient Mediterranean religions? This is the theme of the Inaugural Meeting of the Society for Ancient Mediterranean Religion, held on June 28 2009, at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome, Italy. And I'll be there! Wah-hoo!
At the inaugural meeting of the Society for Ancient Mediterranean Religions, we plan to begin our discussions by considering the ways in which the conceptual category 'religion' is applicable to the study of ancient cultures. Sacrifice, prayer, pilgrimage, private and public devotion, beliefs about gods and goddesses - all of these practices and ideas seem to fall safely enough within the category of 'religion'. A question worth thinking about, however, is whether the boundaries of this modern category - and indeed the category itself - match up with any patterns of practice or belief held by the people we hope to understand. In other words, what did it mean to be 'religious' in the ancient world? Perhaps behaviors that we might now call 'religious' are better understood as falling within the realm of political acts, or as practices that delineate certain tribal or familial identities. Matching up ancient and modern ideas about this cluster of ideas and practices promises to reveal significant mismatches in our conceptual lexica where religion ancient and modern is concerned. We hope that it will also give rise to useful reflections about this inter-disciplinary project that we have initiated: what different methodological presuppositions do students of ancient Mediterranean cultures bring to the study of religious phenomena and what do we stand to learn from each other?


Josephine S. Blick said...

It is definitely true that in the Mesopotamian regions, faith and commerce were inseparable. Temples acted as banks, holding trade goods. The "temple granaries" were vaults of wealth, and businesspeople would trade temple vouchers for so much value worth of trade goods.

The line between faith and daily life is an artificial construct of the current world, in my opinion. A Baptist lives his/her life in the clarion rhythm of divine inspiration. Those of transcendental faith, like Gnostics or Buddhists, find their own faith to be inescapable. Even the anomaly that is the modern atheist (who also bears the baggage of determinism and materialism - atheism these days never seems to coexist with spiritualism) carries an unswerving, unshakable faith that guides their daily choices.

In summary, I'm kind of interested in this one myself.

As a side note, when I first entered the world of blogger, it was to create an identity that spoke the language in which I thought, a language nobody else speaks. It seems alien to now be writing in plain English under the name of Josephine Blick.

Josephine S. Blick said...

BTW - Yes, I know the conference is about Mediterranean faith. I was using Mesopotamian faith as a further example of the same point. I just re-read that and realize it wasn't clear.

Now you know why I prefer to speak in code. ^^

Chas S. Clifton said...

Sounds promising! Are you presenting?

Caroline Tully said...

Hi Chas, actually I am not presenting. (Yes, I know, a bit weird to be going to a conference and not presenting, but I simply haven't had time to come up with anything because of my thesis that I've been doing all semester (now finished), plus a subject as well (almost finished)). I am going to this conference because I am going to be in Rome at that time anyway - on holiday. Then I'm going to Israel to dig at the Philistine site of Tell es-Safi Gath. Then Athens, then home. (Just thought I'd tell you my whole itinerary!). Its all a bit of a flying visit really... will spend more time in Israel later on, when the weather is cooler.