Social Imaginaries

Volume 3, Issue 2, Autumn 2017

Approaches to Religion

Jörg Rupke
Pages 37-56

‘Religion’ as Conceptualised in a Roman Perspective

Definitions and theories of religion have been developed and discarded in an ongoing debate, which has been fuelled as much by post-colonial critique, theories of modernity, and postmodernist positions, as by new foci on old and new media. By starting from the challenges to adequately describe historical phenomena that could be fruitfully compared to religious action in other geographical and chronological settings, methodological options are developed and theorised with regard to an adequate, that is, fruitful model and theory of religion. More concretely, it is proposed to analyse ancient Roman religion as ‘lived ancient religion’ and to conceptualise this religion as religious agency, communication, and collective identity. The basis for this analysis is a recollection of the critique raised against an approach that had reduced ancient religion to ideological and ritual systems bolstering political and (in the context of Greek and Roman cities) ‘civic’ identities. Instead, I argue that the ancient evidence demands an approach that focusses on individual actors and their situational and strategic uses of religious communication. ‘Traditions’ are shaped and modified in such acts of ‘appropriation’.