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CALL. 15.12.2018: [SESSION 3] Inertia versus Friction: Choice of Location and Construction of Space




LUGAR/LOCATION/LUOGO: University of Tartu (Tartu, Estonia)

ORGANIZADOR/ORGANIZER/ORGANIZZATORE: S. Agedeilis, C. Graml, K. Iara, F. Guidetti . EASR-2019

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In Greco-Roman antiquity, religion was commonly perceived as a highly traditional matter, where alterations needed to be justified by religious authorities. It constituted a significant part of cultural traditions, and was per se understood as intended for safekeeping. Consequently, in analysing religious phenomena in those past societies, there is a certain reluctance to identify disruptions, changes or alterations, while the wish, often implicit, to detect continuity plays an important role in scholarship. This could be perceived as a structural weakness in the study of ancient religions, but can also be set as an initial point to reflect more on methods and aims of identifying continuity – and, along with it, disruption.

Taking a closer look at continuity in religious matters in ancient Greece and Rome, we notice that this term describes quite different patterns and only rarely denotes the unchanged persistence of religious practices and/or beliefs. The wide spectrum between continuity, modifications and disruptions can be demonstrated in the choice of locations for cults and narratives, as well as in the construction of space in religious conceptions. Since the physical environment changes in appearance yet not in localisation, specific places are potentially an important continuity factor. In the variable construction of social space through performance, imagination or memory, places – the absolute space – constitute thus an element of stability. The Acropolis in Athens was the Acropolis for people in Classical, Byzantine and modern times no matter which changes in guise or function it experienced. Moreover, continuity in this sense can be unbound from the actual physical place when this becomes e.g. a lieu de mémoire according to Pierre Nora.

This stability of places and spaces makes them suitable for the analysis of continuities and disruptions in religious practices and beliefs in manifold ways, such as their conception, transferability or their mere location. For example, the shifting of defined sacred spaces (temene) does not necessarily imply a hiatus in the worship of the deities in question, but can potentially lead to alterations of the relocated cults, as well as, in a longue-durée perspective, to a changed understanding of the deities themselves (cf. paper by Constanze Graml). The change of emplacement is again essential in the case of the Roman evocatio of a foreign deity, offering potential for continuity as well as disruption in physical and mental transfer processes (cf. paper by Fabio Guidetti). With regard to religious spaces and practices, the shift to Christianity in late antique Rome represents an undisputed disruption: however, spaces and even practices also offer a perspective on continuity within this period of changes (cf. paper by Kristine Iara). In the same era, constructed, virtual places such as the underworld show a remarkable steadiness: in order to make new ideas understandable, Christian writers adapted Greek and Jewish religious concepts and provided the old underworld with new, Christian qualities (cf. paper by Soi Agelidis).

This open session invites papers tackling the potential of mental and physical spaces for establishing, maintaining and changing ancient religious practices and beliefs.

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