Next stop in my conference tour is EASR 2017 conference in Leuven. EASR is the European Association for the Study of Religions. The theme of the conference is ’Communicating religion’ which is somwhat general, as I guess everything is communication.
I will take part in two panels. The first one is ”A Dialogue of the Deaf? Constructing Paganism in Christian Graeco-Roman Apologetics” organised by Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui and Chiara Ombretta Tommasi, and the other one is ”Delineating the Confines of Proper Piety: Negotiating Religious Authority in Antiquity” organised by Marika Rauhala.
In the first one, I’ll give a paper ”Mimus religionis: Late antique Christian denigration of Graeco-Roman religions as superstition and distortion” and in the second one, ”Religious Authority in Crisis? – The Quest for Local Rituals in Late Antiquity”.
Abstracts here:
Mimus religionis: Late antique Christian denigration of Graeco-Roman religions as superstition and distortion
In his polemic against Graeco-Roman religions, Lactantius argues that these cannot be real religiones because there can be no religio wherever there are cult images involved. He states that religio consists of divine things and there is nothing divine except in heavenly things. Thus, Lactantius asserts, cult images are without religio because there can be nothing heavenly in images made from earth. Pagan cults with images were a mere mimicry of religio: non religio in simulacris, sed mimus religionis est (Lactantius, Institutiones divinae 2.18.3).
In this paper, I will discuss the late antique Christian polemic against Graeco-Roman religions (‘paganism’) and especially Christian writers’ argumentation in which Graeco-Roman religions were labelled as a distortion of the real religion. In their criticism, Christian apologists employed the Roman concept of superstitio. I will show how they not only introduced new dimensions to the distinction between religio and superstitio, but also echoed some of the traditional Roman conventions that characterized superstitio as the perversion, forgery or caricature of the proper religio. The focus is on Lactantius’ discussion on the cults with and without images but I will also analyse Augustine’s views on the ‘pagan’ distortions.
Religious Authority in Crisis? – The Quest for Local Rituals in Late Antiquity
In Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages, the ecclesiastical leaders often defined as pagan, superstitious and even magical those rituals and beliefs that they disliked. Augustine of Hippo, for instance, depicted a number of practices as pagan elements that recent converts could not abandon and therefore carried with them into the church after Constantine’s conversion. Augustine and other church leaders have been influential in setting out the course of interpreting the local popular forms of religiosity as magic (‘magical survivals’) or leftovers of paganism (‘pagan survivals’).
In my paper, I will illustrate the local and/or popular forms of late antique religiosity with a few examples taken from the writings of Augustine of Hippo, Paulinus of Nola, and Maximus of Turin as well as some later Latin writers such as Martin of Braga, Gelasius, and Gregory of Rome. I wish to break away from the traditional dichotomies such as pagan/Christian, religion/magic, and religion/superstition and to observe religious practices in the late antique and early medieval world on their own terms. We may call that religious world the third paganism, popular Christianity, or whatever, but choosing the term is not relevant here. Instead of taking local forms of religiosity simply as ‘magical survivals’, ‘pagan survivals’, or ‘Christian superstition’, we should analyse local religious worlds in their different socio-political contexts. Therefore, I will use the local religion model, enhanced, e.g., by Jörg Rüpke, Hubert Cancik, and David Frankfurter.

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