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Esther Eidinow

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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.

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Arresting Alternatives

Religious Prejudice and Bacchantic Worship in Greek Literature

Marika Rauhala

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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.

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Francois Soyer

In Antisemitic Conspiracy Theories in the Early Modern Iberian World: Narratives of Fear and Hatred, François Soyer offers the first detailed historical analysis of antisemitic conspiracy theories in Spain, Portugal and their overseas colonies between 1450 and 1750. These conspiracy theories accused Jews and conversos, the descendants of medieval Jewish converts to Christianity, of deadly plots and blamed them for a range of social, religious, military and economic problems. Ultimately, many Iberian antisemitic conspiracy theorists aimed to create a ‘moral panic’ about the converso presence in Iberian society, thereby justifying the legitimacy of ethnic discrimination within the Church and society. Moreover, they were also exploited by some churchmen seeking to impose an idealized sense of communal identity upon the lay faithful.
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Tahera Qutbuddin

In Arabic Oration: Art and Function, a narrative richly infused with illustrative texts and original translations, Tahera Qutbuddin presents a comprehensive theory of this preeminent genre in its foundational oral period, 7th-8th centuries AD. With speeches and sermons attributed to the Prophet Muḥammad, ʿAlī, other political and military leaders, and a number of prominent women, she assesses types of orations and themes, preservation and provenance, structure and style, orator-audience authority dynamics, and, with the shift from an oral to a highly literate culture, oration’s influence on the medieval chancery epistle. Probing the genre’s echoes in the contemporary Muslim world, she offers sensitive tools with which to decode speeches by mosque-imams and political leaders today.
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Edited by F. Tyler Sergent

A Companion to William of Saint-Thierry provides eight new studies on this noted twelfth-century Cistercian writer by some of the most prolific English-language William scholars from North America and Europe and is structured around William’s life, thought, and influence. A Benedictine abbot who became a Cistercian monk, William of Saint-Thierry (c. 1085-1148) lived through the first half of the twelfth century, a time of significant reform within western Christian monasticism. Although William was directly involved in these reforming efforts while at the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Thierry, his lasting legacy in Christian tradition comes through his written works, many as a Cistercian monk, that showcase his keen intellect, creative thinking, and at times profound insight for spiritual life and its fulfilment. Contributors include: David N. Bell, Thomas X. Davis, E. Rozanne Elder, Brian Patrick McGuire, Glenn E. Myers, Nathaniel Peters, Aage Rydstrøm-Poulsen, and F. Tyler Sergent