The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire

The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire

The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire

The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire

Synopsis

What did the Romans know about their gods? Why did they perform the rituals of their religion, and what motivated them to change those rituals? To these questions Clifford Ando proposes simple answers: In contrast to ancient Christians, who had faith, Romans had knowledge, and their knowledge was empirical in orientation. In other words, the Romans acquired knowledge of the gods through observation of the world, and their rituals were maintained or modified in light of what they learned. After a preface and opening chapters that lay out this argument about knowledge and place it in context, The Matter of the Gods pursues a variety of themes essential to the study of religion in history.

Excerpt

What sort of knowledge did the Romans possess about their gods? What kind of information, of what status, motivated their religious actions? To those questions the first chapter of this book proposes simple answers: that in contrast to ancient Christians, who had faith, the Romans had knowledge; and that their knowledge was empirical in orientation.

The body of the book falls into two halves. The three chapters of Part 1 reconsider a set of problems in Roman religious history in light of chapter 1’s conclusions. These are, first, the problem of materiality and representation in theology and cult; second, the relationship between naming and knowledge in Roman encounters with the divine in unfamiliar landscapes; and third, the influence on religious thought of doctrinal and theoretical developments in Roman law, and what these together might reveal about the metaphysical status assigned by Romans to their public institutions.

Part 2 contains a more strictly diachronic survey of the relationship between religious law and religious thought on the one hand, and different taxonomies and topographies of Roman, Italian, and provincial land on the other. It pursues this inquiry with an eye on two topics, the relationship between religion and imperialism, on the one hand, and the place of Rome in sacred topographies of the empire, on the other.

I was first provoked to ask what the epistemic basis of Roman religion . . .

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