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.
This article examines the similarities and differences between a religious-philosophical approach to contingency and a (religious) psychological approach to coping with health problems. We elaborate on theoretical and empirical developments in research on coping, meaning-focused coping and religious coping. Religious coping is seen as a special form of meaning-focused coping. These coping perspectives are related to Wuchterl’s model for dealing with contingency and an extension of this model, based on Dutch empirical research among cancer patients.
This article focuses on the methodological meaning of the concept of contingency. I illustrate this with a study of doctoral qualification processes, which examines the methodological and substantive dimensions of the contingency paradigm. The study focuses on the way in which doctoral students perceive and conceptualize their research processes, and it crystallized the factors that influence the writing of their dissertations. Horizons of meaning and epistemic concepts, for example, play an essential role. These influence the areas of conflict that arise, the strategies for acting that the doctoral students opt for, and the consequences that result from these strategies. Dealing with contingency turns out to be the central challenge, especially in the supervision of dissertations. The study demonstrates the importance of developing competencies in “contingency encounter” in research and teaching.
Two Case Studies, Ancient Sources, Modern Embodiment
Paul van der Velde
A meeting in South India (Bylakuppe) with a group of Buddhists, followers of the low-caste politician Ambedkar led to a closer investigation of the often found idea that the Buddha opposed the caste system. In this contribution we focus on the tension between the generally held ideas if it comes to the Buddha’s attitude of the caste system (rejection) and everyday practice of a modern group of followers. For this, apart from the exposure in Bylakuppe several episodes from the Pali canon were investigated. It was the unexpected course and the end of the meeting in Byalakuppe that brought the researcher to this reflection, surprised as he was by the course of events. This lead to a renewed reading of several of the ancient sources that are usually brought forward if it comes to the Buddha and caste distinctions. In his own words, a case of ‘creative contingency’ ensuing in a reflection that things were yet more complicated than they seemed to be at first sight. Methodologically speaking one could say this is a field observation that led to a further reflection and a closer investigation of ancient textual sources.