De-Christianizing Greek Religion: Material Affect and Belief
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De-Christianizing Greek Religion: Material Affect and Belief


Our understanding of ancient Greek religion, once disproportionately founded on textual evidence, has in the last five decades increasingly acknowledged the value of material evidence and the unique insights it gives us on the topic. New media, however, are accompanied by new challenges in interpretation. Given our chronological and cultural distance, it is challenging to theorize the role of material objects, such as sacred images, votives, and shrines, in shaping religious experience, and the theological significance of those objects continues to elude us. This is of course a reflection of the nature and amount of evidence, but also a product of most scholars’ culturally western background, which denies the religious value of material objects. Thus, the perspective from which most attempt to understand materiality in ancient religion impedes the realization thereof.This project offers a new framework for approaching ancient Greek religion that recognizes the importance of material objects. More specifically, it situates the cognitive and emotional aspects of ancient Greek religion within the built material realm. Through close examinations of sacred statues, votive offerings, and the placement of shrines and temples throughout the city, I argue that material culture was a central component of Greek religion, essential in establishing a personal relationship between the worshipper and the divine. In order to combat the influence of the predominant western perspective, this work features a strong cross-cultural and comparative element, placing the ancient Greek evidence in dialogue with other observable, polytheistic, and image-centric traditions. Chapter 1 examines sacred images as indices of divine presence that enable viewer-worshippers and gods to see and recognize each other. Chapter 2 argues that sacred images function as affective archives, whose tactility and manipulability produce a horizontal relationship of friendship between viewer-worshippers and deities. The final chapter looks at the geographical emplacement of ancient Greek religion and the responses of diaspora Judeans and early Christians inhabiting the ancient Greek sacred landscape to its vitality. These chapters show that material culture reinforced the religious worldview of the ancient Greeks and was a major factor in the survival and continuation of Greek traditional religion for several centuries after Christianity became the state religion. This work not only enriches our conceptions of ancient Greek religious experience but is integral to our understanding of the engagement between Greek religion and early Christianity.

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