Université d'Erfurt


Dr. Esther Eidinow

Junior Fellow am Max-Weber-Kolleg
von Oktober 2015 bis Juli 2016


Change in Greek Religion. “Embeddedness”, Metamorphosis, and the Relational Self

My project continues and develops research on the interaction between the individual and ‘culture’ in the context of ancient Greek religion. It enables me to begin a new aspect of this project, which bears on the question of the nature, process and conception of change in ritual practice and beliefs over time and place.

The larger project begins with a conception of Greek religion as a dynamic process, in which individuals are participants in the creation of culture as well as its recipients. It builds on two theoretical approaches that I have outlined elsewhere: i) a recasting of ‘embeddedness’, which facilitates a particular focus on the role of the individual and/or institution as relational; and ii) within that new version of ‘embeddedness’, a potential reconfiguration of the conception of the individual that emphasizes the role and perception of the ‘relational self’ in both a cosmological framework - involving relations with supernatural entities - and the socio-political framework of larger groups and communities, including but not limited to the polis.

Rather than assuming that social group or sphere of life was synonymous with Greek religion, this approach encourages the examination of the nature of the relationships between individuals and institutions/small groups and the ways, in which culture and cognition might shape and be shaped by those relationships, creating networks of connections - physical, social, and conceptual - that made ritual practice and belief an intrinsic element of daily life. It centers on narratives as constitutive of those networks, drawing on, and taking further, my previous use of Harrison White and the crucial role of narrative or shared stories in creating links not only between individuals, but also between an individual’s multiple identities.

My research during my stay at the Max-Weber-Kolleg Erfurt will focus on a body of shared narratives of the type that provided network ties between individuals/groups. I have selected myths of metamorphosis, on the grounds that these are shared and changing stories that, as Richard Buxton describes them, ‘explore the limits of humanity’. They concern the nature of the individual, and are therefore significant for constructing a more nuanced understanding of the cultural imaginary regarding the potential for change of the self in the context of interrelations with the supernatural, and its significance also for relations with social groups/institutions (e.g., foundation myths).

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Connexion et changer la langue