Appropriating Traditions, Negotiating Forms: Material culture and Roman religion between categories and variables

Organiser: Anna-Katharina Rieger (University of Erfurt, Max Weber Center of Advanced Cultural and Social Studies)
This session takes place on Thursday, 17 March 2016 from 14:00-18:00

Religions – even text-based ones – are shaped by material objects and spatial structures. These objects and structures are standardised to fulfill a certain purpose – to enable, frame and be part of religious practices. This holds true also for Roman religion: Whether paraphernalia, divine images, architectural forms or figurines for individual dedications, many objects and structures followed certain schemes and made them recognisable and applicable. As a consequence of recognisability, archaeology sets up material categories, in which objects are treated, and that again form the basis for any analysis of religious affairs.

The session aims at a discussion on how this categorised perspective blocks an assessment of Roman religion as a fluid, malleable set of cultural expressions in Roman society as pursued by the approach of “Lived Ancient Religion”. Forms and shapes, objects and arrangements changed over time, since religious practices, spaces and objects are permanently negotiated in societal groups and appropriated by agents due to situational contexts. How – on the methodological side – can we bridge the divergences between standardised categories (for study purposes) and the permanent variability of forms and the use of objects, their assemblages and interrelatedness to spaces and actions? How – on a conceptual level – can we make use of standardisation, appropriation and transformation when dealing with the varieties from the world of things? What anchors objects (including architecture) in tradition to still be utilisable to trigger religious experience/memory? What are “family resemblances“ and what criteria define a deviance or development? And on a practical level the question is, what datasets and tools of interpretation does archaeology need to investigate objects and practices as pertaining to religious activities.

The contributors are encouraged a) to delve into critical reflections on the sufficiency of archaeological categories, b) to search for a clearer concept of religious activity as to be inferred from ancient sources, c) to employ theoretical approaches from relational archaeology (Fowler) to object-biography (Hahn) and agency-based concepts (Latour, Gell) emphasising the interdependencies of objects, humans and spaces (Hodder) in order to grasp Roman religion as a set of interactions and appropriations.

In doing so, we hope to enrich perspectives on Roman religion from an archaeological angle and to integrate the currents of material culture studies ranging from prehistoric to cultural anthropological and art historic fields into studies of Roman religion.

Session Programme

This session is made up of six papers.

1. Resonance of objects and a new theory of religion
2. The votive offering: a category in need of a challenge?
3. Conceptualizing the materiality of religious change
4. The Almo valley at the borders of Rome
5. Beyond motive categories in the study of Roman defixione
6. Mimetic Practice in Provincial Religious Iconography
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