Religion in the Roman Empire
Managing Editor: Jörg Rüpke (Erfurt)
Editors: Jan Dochhorn (Durham), Maren Niehoff (Jerusalem), Rubina Raja (Aarhus), Christoph Riedweg (Zürich), Jörg Rüpke (Erfurt), Christopher Smith (St. Andrews), Moulie Vidas (Princeton), Markus Vinzent (London), and Annette Weissenrieder (Halle)
Associate Editors: Nicole Belayche (Paris), Kimberly Bowes (Rome), John Curran (Belfast), Richard Gordon (Erfurt), Gesine Manuwald (London), Volker Menze (Budapest), Blossom Stefaniw (Halle), and Greg Woolf (London)
Religion in the Roman Empire (RRE) intends to take a new perspective on the religious history of Mediterranean antiquity, starting from the individual, spontaneous, short-lived or organised groups, and « lived » religion instead of simply presupposing the existence of neatly separated organised « cults » and « religions » and a too early « parting of the ways » between such groups. By taking the modern notion of « lived religion » as one of its starting points, research is invoked that analyses religious data and interprets those as experiences, practices addressed to, and conceptions of the divine, which are initiated, appropriated, expressed and shared by individuals in diverse social spaces which may or may not have had an impact on or even have contributed to transform institutional frames.
Within a spatial continuum from the primary space of individuals in family, domestic spaces of everyday production to the shared space of public institutions and trans-local literary communication, the journal intends to open and link different research fields, presenting new or reviewing well-known complexes of evidence in different parts and different periods of the ancient to the late antique world, concentrating on the Roman imperial period without excluding earlier developments in the Western and Eastern parts of the ancient Mediterranean and the adjacent areas. « Roman Empire » is meant as a focus, rather than a criterion for exclusion.
Religious traditions existed and influenced individual and group behaviour, but they were upheld and reworked in the constant interaction of individuals with the agents of traditions and providers of ritual services, « priests », « holy men » or professionals in the various fields. Such traditions formed a relevant part of the environment of religious action, but they should not be studied as isolated or even independent variables. Social, political and economic as well as cultural and inter-religious contexts of micro- and macro-religious phenomena need particular attention. Thus, we opt for the singular « religion » rather than speaking of a plural of « religions », which presupposes boundaries rather than looking for the character and the agents of boundary work.
Religion in the Roman Empire is audacious in the sense that it intends to further and document new and integrative perspectives on religion in the Ancient World and to explore adequate multidisciplinary methodologies. Basically, perspectives like « lived ancient religion » set out to replace the concepts of « cults » and « religions » as integrative frameworks in the description of a field that could usefully be conceptualised as « religion ». Thus, it takes up recent, but still incipient, research to modify and cross disciplinary boundaries (e.g. History of Religion, Archaeology, Anthropology, Ancient History, Classics, Jewish Studies) and specialist subfields (e.g., New Testament, Early Christianity, Rabbinic Studies, Patristic Studies, Coptic Studies, Gnostic and Manichean Studies, Oriental Languages). We hope to stimulate the development of new approaches that can encompass the local and global trajectories of the multi-dimensional pluralistic religions of antiquity.
From such starting points the journal focuses on everyday experience and those practices, expressions, and interactions that could be related to « religion ». In this context « religion » is understood as a spectrum of experiences, actions, beliefs and communications hinging on human communication with super-human or even transcendent agent(s), including but not limited to « gods » and « God », « demons », « angels » and « heroes ». Ritualization and elaborate forms of representation are called upon for the success of communication with these addressees. By refocusing on the individual and the situational – that is, on the intrinsic determinants of lived religion – it aims to bring the study of ancient Eurasian religion in discussion with global History of Religion as much as with more specialized research on particular regions, epochs, traditions or bodies of texts.
When concentrating on practices, relevant evidence is not limited to texts preserving autobiographical experiences and expressions. Most of the evidence at our disposal is best interpreted neither as « authentic » individual expression nor as institutional « survival », but as media, rhetoric and representation – as cultural work created in interaction. Scattered evidence needs to be contextualised and interpreted by relating it to individual agents, their use of space and time, their forming of social coalitions, their negotiation with religious specialists or « providers » and their attempts to « make sense » of religion in a situational manner and thus render it effective. In terms of the material and disciplinary competences involved, the journal welcomes texts reconstructed on the basis of a long manuscript tradition, epigraphic evidence and archaeological remains from material vestiges of rituals, small-scale votives and instruments, up to architectural complexes as well as meta-data created by serialisation or statistical analysis. Thus, historical, literary, archaeological and comparative studies are welcome, as long as they offer innovative and convincing steps towards the proposed reconfiguration of our knowledge of the areas noted above.
Within the field of archaeology there has been strong focus on the material culture of religion for a number of years. The methodological and theoretical directions which such research has taken have been manifold attesting to the fact that archaeological material and contexts (or the lack of it) is complicated to work with and may offer different perspectives on religion and religious practice. Through the focus of this journal on lived religion it is the intention to bring a further perspective to archaeological research within the field of religion and ritual and other devotional practices. We want to stimulate debate and discussions about how archaeology and archaeological research may add and question the ways in which religious experiences and life are approached in current and former scholarship. This focus may include both reviewing past contributions in the light of new material and presenting new archaeological material to give new insights into religion in the ancient world or enlighten new ways of seeing old material.
Research on ancient Judaism has long been pursued in relative isolation from the study of the Roman imperial contexts that shaped so much of ancient Jewish history and literature. Just as Classicists have tended to presume their isolation to dismiss Jews as an atypical provincial Roman population, so scholars of Jewish history and literature tended to presume their isolationism from the surrounding local and imperial cultures, particularly when studying Rabbinic and other materials written in Hebrew. The Roman Empire looms large in Jewish history as an agent for the catastrophic changes in the wake of the failures of the revolts of the first and second centuries CE. Until recently, however, little was done to try to understand the Roman contexts of Judaism, then or thereafter.
Multiple lines of specialist research have begun to show the value of more integrative approaches – whether by re-reading Josephus in relation to Roman historiography, by considering late antique Rabbis as provincial subelites, by culling Hekhalot literature for echoes of colonial mimicry and resistance, by looking to documentary and inscriptional data to reconsider ancient Jewish identities, or by revisiting synagogue art and architecture in relation to the broader cultural trends concurrent with the empire’s Christianization. Given the range of Jewish literature composed under Roman rule – spanning not just the writings of Philo and Josephus but also some Dead Sea Scrolls and so-called « pseudepigrapha » as well as early Rabbinic literature, piyyutim, and perhaps also some Hekhalot materials – there may be much to be gained from experimenting with a re-orientation that reads other sources from similarly integrative perspectives, or indeed asking how Jews and Judaism may have participated in the very making of « religion » in the Roman Empire. At the very least, attention to the Roman imperial context of much of ancient Jewish life and literature may help to facilitate fresh approaches to ancient Jewish history, bridging pre-70 and post-70 periods but also integrating material culture and different Jewish literary corpora created under Roman rule.
Ancient Judaism thus provides an opportunity for enrichingly reciprocal study of Religion in the Roman Empire. On the one hand, Judaism was a pre-Roman ethnic practice transformed into a naturalized part of the Roman landscape. On the other hand we are unusually well-informed about the paradoxical impact on Roman rule on the Jews’ « great tradition » – the center annihilated, the practice which made Judaism most at home in the mediterranean religious environment, animal sacrifice, ended. On the other hand, we witness concurrently the massive elaboration of an ostensibly traditional but in fact largely novel system of religious law and thought by a new clerisy. Despite its novelty, there is little that is decisively ‘Roman’ about rabbinic law and literature: Roman rule thus generated a religious system whose complexity and strangeness is barely adumbrated in the archaeological record. Consequently, Judaism may serve among other things to remind us how little we know about other forms of Roman imperial religious expressions and practices.
In the field of New Testament exegesis there was in the last decades a double paradigm shift which immediately put the topics of Religion in the Roman Empire into the focus of attention: On the one hand, the diachronic orientation which dominated the scholarly exegesis for almost a century was more and more complemented and partly even replaced by a synchronic one which led to renewed interest in the cultural and religious context. On the other hand, the predominant concentration on (mostly Palestinian) Judaism as the « root » or « native soil » of Early Christianity was complemented by a new awareness of the importance of Hellenistic culture in all its aspects already for Palestinian Judaism and therefore also for the emerging Christian movement from its very beginning. Topics to be discussed in such an interdisciplinary cooperation include « Religion and Ethics », « Prayer », « Cult (and its transformation and spiritualization) », « God(s) », « Mediators », « Power and Religion », « Paideia and Piety » (focusing on philosophers, orators, Rabbis, teachers as new religious authorities) and « Food and Religion ». Even from within the exegetical discipline the field has considerably broadened and Religion in the Roman Empire is instrumental in that.
The study of early Christianity so far has often focussed on Patristic apostolic and apologetic literature that has been preserved and promoted by a Christianity that had become the state religion of the Roman Empire in late antiquity, hence, it often suffers from a methodological circularity, namely its anachronistically presupposed canonical sources and, based on them, its methodological framework, hardly recognizing that both were only the result of what they take as ontological outset. While the framework identifies Christianity with the political, language, cultural and institutional units it is operating in – conceptualized as Roman, Western or Eastern Christianity etc. – it provides religious identity provisions, collective identities and Christian life structures (baptism, the eucharist and the weekly and annual rites) which need to be questioned rather than taken for granted.
Therefore Religion in the Roman Empire welcomes studies of early Christian materials in the broader context of the religiously pluralistic ancient Roman world. All aspects of early Christianity may be considered, including New Testament, apocryphal, or patristic literature; archaeological or papyrological materials; and area studies such as Syriac or Coptic Christianity. Topics could include investigations that engage Christian materials in discussions of wider thematic or material issues, such as lived religion, religion and violence, space and place, ritual, sex/gender studies, women’s studies, masculinity studies, social grouping, group styles, boundary setting strategies (such as « orthodoxy and heresy »), scriptural practices, the new materialism, religious mediation, agency, and the new philology, among others. A goal is to encourage analysis that crosses or resets disciplinary borders and invites engagement with scholarship that will place work on lived ancient religion within wider contemporary discussions in the fields of religion, social science, and the humanities broadly conceived.
The scope of the journal aims to bring together scholars working in different fields and with different types of sources in thematic issues in order to propose and discuss methodological approaches, material evidence or social and historiographic models interpreting religious « data » within a framework, which is no longer defined by the clear-cut container concepts of « cults », ethnic or « polis religions », or the orthodox and heretical groups figuring in traditional accounts of the ancient history of religion.
The journal will concentrate on original research articles, but we also invite review articles covering a wider field of recent research or intensively engaging with new stimulating monographs. Thematic issues will bring together specialized articles, but occasional open issues invite also submissions of articles to the editors. Articles will undergo double blind peer review.
(Text by the editors)