This article discusses the challenges facing scholars exploring the nature of belief in ancient Greek religion. While recent scholarship has raised questions about individual religious activities, and work on ritual, the body, and the senses has broadened our methodological palette, the nature and dynamics of generally held “low intensity” beliefs still tend to be described simply as “unquestioned” or “embedded” in society. But examining scholarship on divine personifications suggests that ancient beliefs were — and our perceptions of them are — more complex. This article first explores the example of Tyche (“Chance”), in order to highlight some of the problems that surround the use of the term “belief.” It then turns to the theories of “ideology” of Slavoj Žižek and Robert Pfaller and argues that these can offer provocative insights into the nature and dynamics of ritual and belief in ancient Greek culture.
Religious Prejudice and Bacchantic Worship in Greek Literature
Ancient Greek descriptions of ecstatic and mystic rituals, here broadly labeled as Bacchantic worship, regularly include elements of moral corruption and dissolution of social unity. Suspicions were mostly directed against unofficial cult groups that exploited Dionysiac experiences in secluded settings. As the introduction of copious new cults attests, Greek religion was receptive to external influences. This basic openness, however, was not synonymous with tolerance, and pious respect for all deities did not automatically include their worshippers. This article reconsiders the current view of ancient religious intolerance by regarding these negative stereotypes as expressions of prejudice and by investigating the social dynamics behind them. Prejudices against private Bacchantic groups are regarded as part of the process of buttressing the religious authority of certain elite quarters in situations where they perceive that their position is being threatened by rival claims. It is suggested that both the accentuation and alleviation of prejudice is best understood in relation to the relative stability of the elite and the religious control it exerted.
Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) is Islam’s largest movement, with estimates of up to 80 million Muslims taking part in its activities. Having originated on the Indian subcontinent, TJ has expanded to have a strong presence across the globe. Traditionally, TJ is known for bringing lapsed Muslims back to a stricter understanding of Islam and the recommendation that its male (and to an increasing extent also its female) members spend a certain portion of time each year working on the “path of Allah” — that is, on missionary activities. Tablighi leaders are conscious that participation in the movement impacts not only those who are the targets of missionary activity but also those who are doing the missionizing, having a powerful effect upon the formation of selfhoods. TJ also emphasizes the importance of imitating the Prophet Muhammad, and members are encouraged to ritualize every aspect of their life in accordance with the Prophet’s example. The ritualization of everyday practices, a focus on purity and mission, combined with textual (re)interpretation, contribute to individual and collective identity construction among members of TJ. For TJ, the formation of modern Muslim selfhoods is of vital importance, as they believe that an identity centered on an authentic form of Islam can protect Muslims in a fast-changing world.
Dietrich Jung and Ahmed el Zalaf
The Muslim Brotherhood represents an exemplary case for the discussion of Islam and modernity. Founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hasan al-Banna, it developed from a religious movement into a well-organized institution and a cadre party with mass appeal. The Muslim Brotherhood assumed the role of a major social vehicle for the promotion of a specifically Islamic imagination of modernity and related forms of modern Muslim subjectivity. This article explores the ideas of Hasan al-Banna and their historical context from a distinct theoretical perspective. It poses questions with regard to ways in which he constructed an Islamic modern social order and meaningful Muslim selfhoods. Thereby, it understands the Muslim Brotherhood as an inherent part of the emergence of global modernity as “world history.”