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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

Abstract

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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Ammeke Kateman

In Muḥammad ʿAbduh and his Interlocutors: Conceptualizing Religion in a Globalizing World, Ammeke Kateman offers an account of Muḥammad ʿAbduh’s Islamic Reformism in a context in which ideas increasingly crossed familiar geographical, religious and cultural frontiers. Presenting an alternative to the inadequate perspective of “Westernization”, Kateman situates the ideas of Muḥammad ʿAbduh (Egypt, 1849-1905) on Islam and religion amongst those of his interlocutors within a global intellectual field.

Ammeke Kateman’s approach documents the surprising pluralism of ʿAbduh’s interlocutors, the diversity in their shared conceptualizations of religion and the creativity of ʿAbduh’s own interpretation. In this way, the entangled conceptualizations of ʿAbduh and his contemporaries also shed light on the diversified global genealogy of the modern concept of religion.
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Ingrid Falque

In Devotional Portraiture and Spiritual Experience Ingrid Falque analyses the meditative functions of early Netherlandish paintings including devotional portraits, that is portraits of people kneeling in prayer. Such paintings have been mainly studied in the context of commemorative and social practices, but as Ingrid Falque shows, they also served as devotional instruments.

By drawing parallels between the visual strategies of these paintings and texts of the major spiritual writers of the medieval Low Countries, she demonstrates that paintings with devotional portraits functioned as a visualisation of the spiritual process of the sitters. The books is accompanied by the first exhaustive catalogue of paintings with devotional portraits produced in the Low Countries between c. 1400 and 1550 (in a e-format).
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Joanna Cruickshank and Patricia Grimshaw

In White Women, Aboriginal Missions and Australian Settler Governments, Joanna Cruickshank and Patricia Grimshaw provide the first detailed study of the central part that white women played in missions to Aboriginal people in Australia. As Aboriginal people experienced violent dispossession through settler invasion, white mission women were positioned as ‘mothers’ who could protect, nurture and ‘civilise’ Aboriginal people. In this position, missionary women found themselves continuously navigating the often-contradictory demands of their own intentions, of Aboriginal expectations and of settler government policies. Through detailed studies that draw on rich archival sources, this book provides a new perspective on the history of missions in Australia and also offers new frameworks for understanding the exercise of power by missionary women in colonial contexts.