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Lecture 1 - Religion in the Roman World

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University of Toronto St. George

CLA310 - Religion in the Roman World Wednesday Sept 12, 2012 Lecture 1 - Religion in the Roman World How Do We Define Religion? • Class discussion: • Personal vs institutional • Belief • System of ethics • Traditions • Ritual • Founder • Narrative to explain world • Communication to/with deity • Relationships with fellow human beings, not just gods Belief in higher power that explains unknown • • Attempting to explain life after death • Text • Very difficult to bring our ideas of religion and install them on ancient world Romans did not have an authoritative text (like the Christian bible) • • Oracles return the words of the gods to humans • Human relationships critical in Roman religion • In Rome, religion is a determining factor in politics Religion + politics are inseparable • • The place where the senate met was considered a temple • Roman religion has a lot of different stories like a patchwork, and sometimes they clash • Some religion can trace back to a founder, this is not always so in Roman religion • No original founder, but might have founder of rituals, or a narrative of a group or person bring- ing religion • Senate often passed decrees to allow a cult for the benefits of the polis • Personal, belief and systems of ethics (listed above) is a sticky issue for Roman religion • Sacrifice tied in with communication with gods • Days that were sacred to gods could be days on which there could be no trade; where a good of- fering to the gods who are untroubled by human conditions, and emotions, could be to take a break and live in leisure for the day • Non-material offerings • Roman’s borrowed religions from Greeks and Etruscans • Very synchronistic Myths of Rome • Every single aspect of Roman religion borrowed except for animistic spirits of nature • Traditional Roman religion was austere, static and in public space • Common people had no personal connection and did not believe in their gods - only concerned with action and turned to ‘Mystery Cults’ • Incredibly tolerant of any religion, so long as they worshipped the emperor • These arguments can run counter to the evidence that survives Where and why were these myths created? • CLA310 - Religion in the Roman World Wednesday Sept 12, 2012 Lecture 1 - Religion in the Roman World • Even in late antiquity there was a lot of rhetoric made by new Christians whose aim it was to em- phasize differences between Roman paganism and Christianity • As a result, a lot of what they (the Christians) said was because they were preserved in monaster- ies, continually re-copied • “Paganism,” “Pagans,” were probably not terms used by the Romans, but persist through Chris- tian literature • The term pagan lumps people together in a way that is largely unhelpful • Into the MiddleAges people stopped thinking on Roman religion • Around the time of the Christian Reformation, when Protestants divided from Catholics, a lot of Christian reformers wanted to show how their religions was different from Roman Catholicism, and highlighted the personal connection vs ritualistic (representing Protestantism and Catholicism respectively) • Roman Catholicism was seen as stale and inept • Empericism - how can we quantify things. Less interested in study of religion because it isn’t fal- sifiable or objective • Therefore, religion is overlooked • Then into the 20th century anthropologists renewed the interest in religion • Construct narratives on religion • At this time the study of ancient Greece was popular, and the same methods applied to Greece was applied to the Roman world • It seemed that Greeks had personal religion, when they turned to Rome they figured the Romans simply borrowed and were static Later we start to look at material evid
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