Transformations of the Inner Self in Ancient Religions

Transformations of the Inner Self in Ancient Religions

Transformations of the Inner Self in Ancient Religions

Transformations of the Inner Self in Ancient Religions

Synopsis

This collection of papers from two workshops - held in Heidelberg, Germany, in July 1996 and Jerusalem, Israel, in October 1997 - is concerned with anthropological rather than theological aspects of the Near Eastern and Mediterranean religions, ranging from the primary religions of the archaic period and their complex developments in Egypt and Mesopotamia to the soteriological movements and secondary religions that emerged in Late Antiquity. The first part of the book focuses on Confession and Conversion", while the second part is devoted to the topic of "Guilt, Sin and Rituals of Purification". The primary purpose of this volume is to convey a sense of the dynamics and dialectical relationships between the various Near Eastern and Mediterranean religions from the archaic period to Late Antiquity."

Excerpt

J. Assmann and G.G. Stroumsa

From their earliest forms down to the deep transformations they underwent in late antiquity, the religions of the Near East have usually been studied mainly for their theological ideas. in sharp contrast to this approach and particularly in the last generation, the study of Greek religion, for instance, has greatly benefited from new scholarly perspectives that emphasized both the anthropological dimensions of religion and the implications of theology, myth and cult for the evolution of anthropological conceptions. As is well known, the birth of the western conception of the individual has generally been attributed to ancient Greece.

The various chapters of this volume are the fruit of a project that was essentially concerned with aspects of the anthropological, rather than the theological dimensions of Near Eastern and Mediterranean religions, ranging from the "primary" religions of the archaic period and their complex developments in Egypt and Mesopotamia to the "soteriological" movements and "secondary" religions that emerged in late antiquity. Interpretive and comparative in nature, this project sought to uncover new dimensions of the relationships between religion and culture, and thus to better understand the formation of western anthropological conceptions. It is not only intended to bring new conceptual and factual results, but also to propose a breakthrough in method. We hope to have offered new models for the comparative study of the role of religion in ancient societies.

Recent years have seen the remarkable growth, among social scientists and philosophers alike, of the study of the person or "self". the last major effort in this trend is represented by Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self (Cambridge, Mass., 1989). This work is an impressive attempt at retracing the genealogy of the modern person, which, in a sense, could be described as an "anti-Foucault" statement of sorts—Michel Foucault's Les mots et les choses having been widely perceived as heralding the death of man. Taylor's book, however, is not devoid of religious presuppositions and implications. It is precisely because Taylor sees the sacred as being transformed, but not . . .

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