Religious Studies | Colloquium Ancient Religions: Sacrifice
R633 | 14830 | Brakke

Graduate level class. Meets with Rel-r 733

If any single practice characterized religious life throughout the
ancient Mediterranean world, it was sacrifice.  Whichever god or
goddess they worshiped, ancient people did so by killing animals and
offering grains and plants.  Arguably the prohibition of sacrifice
at the end of the fourth century C.E. is a central marker of the end
of antiquity.  Why did sacrifice emerge as the primary way of
worshiping the gods?  And why is it so ubiquitous a feature of
religion across the globe?  What work did sacrifice do in ancient
Greece, Rome, and Israel?  How did it shape and reflect social and
political life, gender roles, and concepts of the divine?  What did
it mean for Christians to refuse to sacrifice and yet to make it the
central symbol of their religion?
This colloquium will combine readings in important theoretical and
historical studies of sacrifice with study of ancient sacrificial
practices of interest to the students.  In addition to weekly
readings, students will make two presentations to the group, one on
a major theory of sacrifice and the other on a relevant body of
ancient evidence of their choice.  The latter presentation will
culminate in a research paper of 20 pages.  There may also be some
short written assignments.
Probable readings: Jeffrey Carter (ed.), Understanding Religious
Sacrifice: A Reader; Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss, Sacrifice;
Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo; Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly (ed.),
Violent Origins; Walter Burkert, Homo Necans; Marcel Detienne and
Jean-Pierre Vernant (ed.), The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the
Greeks; Nancy Jay, Throughout Your Generations Forever: Sacrifice,
Religion, and Paternity.
This course is required of doctoral students in Ancient
Mediterranean and Near Eastern Religions, but open to all interested
graduate students, whatever their area of specialization.