A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World

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Editor(s): 
Rubina Raja and Jorg Rupke
Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World
  • Malden, MA: 
    Wiley-Blackwell
    , June
     2015.
     520 pages.
     $195.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781444350005.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World is a significant contribution to the intersecting fields of archaeology, religious studies, and ancient history due to the collection’s utilization of progressive methodologies and concern for future research. This companion contains thirty-five contributions that are arranged into seven primary themes: Archaeology of Ritual; Embodiment; Creating Spaces of Experiences; Designing and Appropriating Sacred Space Sharing Public Space; Expressiveness; and Agents and Trans-formations. Contributors present a broad range of archaeological data and interpretation from ancient Mediterranean, Mesopotamian, and central European sites as case studies within each chapter. The general structure of each chapter includes an introduction to the topic and the history of its usage in archaeology, a case study in the ancient world, and a guide to further reading. Scholars involved with this volume survey a variety of issues, from inscriptions and dance to oracular shrines and Jewish visual culture.

Many contributors to this volume wrestle with the applicability of catch-words—“lived religion,” “material religion,” and “embodiment”—to the very tangible study of the archaeology of religion. While examining the possibility of culturally embodied religion in the ancient world, the contributors are cautious to avoid an oft-noted folly––to consider any unexplainable archaeological finding as “cultic” (2). The seven themes of this volume present readers with alternate, and more methodologically defined, classifications by which one might categorize these so-called “cultic” materials.

Equally as important, the volume’s editors, Rubina Raja and Jörg Rüpke, make clear in their introduction that “this companion to the archaeology of religion does not aim at reifying religion, but at understanding the role of objects in cultural practices of constructing religion” (7). Accordingly, the contributors take note of recent scholarship that questions the essentiality modern definition(s) of “religion,” and instead examine how material objects are utilized in ritualized action. Scholars throughout this volume also critique the traditional and oversimplified division between “public” and “private” religion, with contributors often suggesting the examination of “domestic” space and household goods without assuming that the space must inevitably be “private.”

A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World is a valuable resource for both scholars and students who desire a broad introduction to the types of archaeological materials and methodologies currently used to reconstruct ancient rituals and embodied practices. This volume exposes the multiplicity of inquiries possible through examination of our sometimes-scant archaeological data, often invoking contemporary scholarly questions in religion, such as: Who is watching these rituals, and to what extent? How have constructions of gender or race as etic categories impacted study of the ancient world? How do embodied or perpetuated actions impact their agents’ religious experiences? Each contributor provides a precise approach to these questions, and many more, as well as clear directions for the collaborative future between archaeology and religious studies.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Chance E. Bonar is a Master of Arts in Religion candidate with a concentration in New Testament and Early Christianity at Yale Divinity School.

Date of Review: 
February 3, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Rubina Raja is Professor of Classical Archaeology at Aarhus University, Denmark. She has published widely on religious identities in the eastern Roman provinces, and is editor of the series Contextualising the Sacred, Lived Ancient Religion, and Palmyrenske Studier. She is the author of the monograph Urban Development and Regional Identity in the Eastern Roman Provinces, 50 BC – AD 250: Aphrodisias, Ephesos, Athens, Gerasa. She is currently working on a monograph on the religious life of the Tetrapolis region

Jörg Rüpke is Professor of History of Religion at the University of Erfurt, Germany and director of the ERC Research Group “Lived Ancient Religion.” His books include Domi militiae (1990); Rituals in Ink (2004); Religion and Law in Classical and Christian Rome (2006); (ed.) A Companion to Roman Religion (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007); Religion of the Romans (2007); Fasti sacerdotum (2008); The Roman Calendar from Numa to Constantine: Time, History, and the Fasti(Wiley-Blackwell, 2011); Von Jupiter zu Christus (2011); Religion in Republican Rome: Rationalization and Ritual Change(2012); Religiöse Erinnerungskulturen (2012); The Individual in the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean (2013); Ancients and Moderns: Religion (2014).

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