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Display and Devotion: A Social and Religious Analysis of New Kingdom Votive Stelae from Asyut

  • Author(s): Wells, Eric Ryan;
  • Advisor(s): Dieleman, Jacco;
  • et al.

This dissertation is a case study and analysis of provincial religious decorum at New Kingdom Asyut. Decorum was a social force that restricted and defined the ways in which individuals could engage in material displays of identity and religious practice. Four-hundred and ninety-four votive stelae were examined in an attempt to identify trends and patters on self-display and religious practice. Each iconographic and textual element depicted on the stelae was treated as a variable which was entered into a database and statistically analyzed to search for trends of self-display.

The analysis of the stelae revealed the presence of multiple social groups at Asyut. By examining the forms of capital displayed, it was possible to identify these social groups and reconstruct the social hierarchy of the site. This analysis demonstrated how the religious system was largely appropriated by elite men as a stage to engage in individual competitive displays of identity and capital as a means of reinforcing their profession and position in society and the patronage structure. Women also donated votive stelae at Asyut. Indeed, women appear to have enjoyed higher visibility, and much more independent social power and agency at Aysut than at any other New Kingdom site. However, the stelae also demonstrate that women were usually not public figures, and mostly gained their social capital through family connections.

The presence of multiple social groups engaged in religious practice at Asyut demonstrates that individuals from all levels of society actively participated in formal Egyptian religious practices and displayed a personal connection to Wepwaut--although this connection was expressed in different ways. This challenges the often presented belief that there was a divide between so-called `popular religion' and temple-based religious practice in the ancient world, and complicates the perception that belief in a personal connection to the divine and participation in formal religious experiences were limited to elite members of society.

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