Religious Studies | Ancient Mediterranean Religions
R420 | 25842 | Harrill


Who or what is the divine?  How should human beings relate to it?
This course examines the variety of ways that people answered these
questions in the ancient "pagan" experience of the Mediterranean
world, concentrating on the period from the death of Alexander the
Great (323 BCE) to the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine
to Christianity (313 CE). The approach will take into account the
religious pluralism characteristic of Greco-Roman polytheism at four
levels: (1) the international level of official state piety in the
Olympian gods and goddesses; (2) the local level of community
devotion of neighborhood divinities and oracles; (3) the family
level of idiosyncratic cultic veneration of ancestors and
the "grateful" dead; and (4) the individual level of personal
spirituality.  We will read a first-hand account of pagan
spirituality, The Golden Ass, by Apuleius, as well as other primary
texts.  After a survey of traditional myth and religion, we will
investigate magic, divination, astrology, mystery cults, and
philosophical schools (Stoic, Epicurean, Pythagorean, Cynic).  We
will also study specific religious practices in Greek and Roman
daily life, including athletic and theatrical competitions, judicial
proceedings, love affairs, and business transactions.  Supernatural
phenomena in the ancient world will be of particular interest,
including witches, ghosts, demons, vampires, and resuscitated
corpses, described in both literary and archaeological sources.  The
course ends by examining Judaism and early Christianity as ancient
Mediterranean religions.

The course goals are as follows: (1) to acquire general information
literacy about the cultural foundations of Western civilization, (2)
to interpret primary texts that express a lost religious tradition
of the past; (3) to overcome the difficulty that monotheists have in
comprehending polytheistic religion, particularly a kind that
operates by ritual and not by belief, (4) to understand how many
Greeks and Romans were deeply religious in ways modern Christians
may not immediately recognize as such, which challenges the
unexamined presupposition that religion is simply "faith." (5) and
to learn about the religious environment of the New Testament and
early Christianity.
Requirements: one short (5 page) essay, a research paper, a midterm,
and final examination.