Religion, Society, and World Relations Faculty of Philosophy Max-Weber-Kolleg

Lived Ancient Religion – Questioning "Cults" and "Polis Religion"

Jörg Rüpke: This project, funded by the European Research Council (ERC), takes a completely new perspective on the religious history of Mediterranean antiquity, starting from the individual and "lived" religion instead of cities or peoples. "Lived ancient religion" suggests a set of experiences, of practices addressed to, and conceptions of the divine, which are appropriated, expressed, and shared by individuals in diverse social spaces.

06/2013 - 05/2017

European Research Council (ERC) :
2 300 000 Euro

Project management

Prof. Dr. Jörg Rüpke
Holder of the Professorship for Comparative Religious Studies (Vergleichende Religionswissenschaft) (Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies)

The claim of this project is that looking onto lived religion instead of systems of gods and ritual rules enables us not only to better understand certain features and episodes of ancient religious practice, but also to better understand long-term processes of religious change. It brings together results from the many sub-projects and own research on the development of religious agents and media in Italy from the final Bronze Age to the 4th century AD. The geographical space is the (later) Roman Empire, in particular developments at Rome and in central Italy, but also the entanglement with developments in other places from Syria to the British Isles. Archaeological evidence is combined with epigraphic and literary texts. The focus is on strategies of religious communication, the latter’s competitive use, and the different social spaces affected by these actions.

Within these spaces ranging from the primary space of a) the family, b) the secondary space of associations, to c) the shared space of public institutions and d) trans-local literary communication, four research fields are defined. In each of them a sub-project addresses representative complexes of evidence in different parts of the Mediterranean in the Imperial period. They are bound together by the transversal analysis of the interaction of individuals with the agents of traditions and providers of religious services within the various fields. The methodological innovation of the "lived ancient religion" approach is defined through the notions of religious experience, embodiment, and "culture formed in interaction", which are intended to replace the present foci of symbols, rituals, and "culture as text".

The project of "Lived Ancient Religion" is pioneering inasmuch as it develops and tests a far-reaching alternative model to "cults" and "polis religion" in order to analyse and describe ancient Mediterranean religion focusing on the role of individuals and their interpretation of experiences as religious on a synchronic as well as diachronic base. Its risk lies in modifying the methodology implied in the "lived religion" approach to contemporary religion for the necessities of a body of evidence that is characteristic of a "dead religion".