The worship of political leaders is not an unusual phenomenon in human history. It has been practiced at many times in many regions of the world. 1 However, scholars have treated the worship of the Roman emperors mostly with bewilderment or disdain. 2 Modern western scholars have tended to operate with a parochial definition of religion based on the recent history of Europe and North America, where politics and religion are thought to be distinct spheres of activity.
This chapter draws on the discipline of religious studies to place modern western theory in perspective and then proposes an amended phenomenological method for the comparison of Revelation and Roman imperial cults. The method draws on work in the history of religions and on aspects of postcolonial theory to develop a broader framework for a socially situated analysis of the ancient materials. This framework illuminates two forms of religious criticism: a practitioner's variety exemplified by John's Revelation and an academic variety found in the writings of several historians of religion.
Several religionists from diverse orientations have argued that European and American definitions of “religion” during the last few centuries have not described what most groups and individuals have experienced as religious. Three theorists provide