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Ancient Religion

Religion Studies

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Jun 10, 2012, 3:08pm Top

I have recently been revisiting the question of Ancient Religion for my own enjoyment and edification. Authors whom I've found especially thought provoking over the years (and recently too!) on this topic are Jan Assmann, Georges Bataille, Rene Girard, and Walter Burkert. Of course there are always the old standbys like Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade.

Two recent books I am waiting to see in paperback are:
The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations in Late Antiquity, Guy G. Stroumsa
Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age, Robert N. Bellah
Is there anyone else I should be looking at?


Edited: Dec 22, 2012, 8:45pm Top

I picked up Stroumsa at Kalamazoo but haven't read it yet.

I can recommend Kim Bowes, Private Worship, Public Values and Religious Change in Late Antiquity. Good book - I have a review up on it. It's primarily about the evolution of early Christianity.

Dec 23, 2012, 7:02am Top

Thanks for the recommendation. Nice review.

Dec 23, 2012, 9:17am Top

Da nada. If I'd surveyed groups in the last 10 months or so I'd have put something up a bit sooner. Too bad this one doesn't get a bit more traffic.

Dec 23, 2012, 10:22am Top

The Bellah looks very interesting. Did you get to it yet? If so, how was it?

Dec 23, 2012, 12:45pm Top

#4 I think the reason this group doesn't get traffic is because the fanatics (those for & against some particular position, some 'X') are not interested in non-fanatical discussion.

#5 No, I haven't seen the Bellah book. I am still waiting for a paperback edition. But I have heard good things about it.

As far as new books on religion go, I just purchased Kant's opus Postumum which includes his discussion of self-positing as it relates to the Idea of God. I should see it in a couple of weeks. I've seen Vaihinger (in his Philosophy of As If) maintain that his (and Nietzsche's) notion of 'Necessary Fictions' was anticipated in the Opus Postumum.
I am still trying to get a firm grasp of how much of our post-modernity can be traced back to Kant.

Oh, and I also purchased The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiquity to the Cathar Heresy which looks like a fun historical read. It will be interesting to see how (according to the author) dualism emerged and then transformed (and was transformed) over time.

Ive been reading a lot of nineteenth century (PDF & Ebook) works over the past year just to get a sense of how things do and do not change. The everyday racism of the times is amazing! On the other hand, I learned things too. For instance, I think the distinction between land-power and sea-power that geo-political writers of a century ago were intelligently writing about is still very important, In fact, if you look at someone like Arrighi (in The Long Twentieth Century), his understanding of the history of Capitalist regimes (Genoa, the Dutch, the British, and the American) is recognizably similar to (but certainly not the same as) the discussions of sea-power that occurred so long ago.

Dec 23, 2012, 5:30pm Top

#6 A lot of my sources are cheap public domain reprints. One of the interesting things is reading through the introductory sections to see how attitudes have changed. For example, in a 1907 edition of Rutilius Namatianus' poem about his trip from Rome to Gaul, in the introduction Charles Haines Keene states that some individuals named must be Pagans because it is impossible to believe that a Pagan such as Namatianus could be friends with a Christian. That particular concept was disproved, decisively, some time ago.

Scarier is to read what the Third Reich did with history to promote their ideas of racial purity and which lands Germany had an ancestral right to. The same sort of rhetoric, though not quite as severe, was used during the Bosnian War.

Edited: Dec 27, 2012, 5:09pm Top

These books deal with Ancient Near Eastern Religion, and there is the well-known Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan by W.F. Albright,
followed by Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic by F.M. Cross (recently deceased :(...);
R.K. Gnuse's No Other Gods: Emergent Monotheism in Israel;
Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan by John Day - the spiritual successor to Albright's previously mentioned work -
and finally M.S. Smith's The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel.

Though Albright's work is very out-dated, it still helps to serve as a jumping-off point into the stream of other books specifically made to deal with religious evolution in the area of the Levant. Not sure if these are some of the books that might interest you, but I'm throwing there out there. I suppose it depends on what aspect of religion you are interested in, as well. Some books are devoted to specific religious issues (such as how polytheism/henotheism/monolatrism evolved into monotheism, to name one example).

I will comment on Campbell, however. If you want a reliable account of religious development, Campbell is NOT the source to go to. He has long been seen as exactly what he is: a popular writer with an unhealthy obsession with C. Jung, whose (Campbell's) ideas were never sufficiently impressive (or even proved) to enter mainstream scholarship on the subject. He may have been popular in some circles, but these are the same circles that consider Merlin Stone the final word on Goddesses.

I must say that Bataille's Theory of Religion was a phenomenal work, though a difficuult read in my teens! Highly reccomended, as the original poster pointed out. :D

Group: Religion Studies

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