An international, cross-disciplinary investigation of ancient religious practices and their material remains yields fresh insights and poses new questions
Ritual Matters interrupts the anachronistic binaries of religious practice and belief, the material and the theological, by taking a new approach to the study of archaeological remains of ancient religions. Focusing on the materiality of ritual—inherent in everything from monumental temples and altars, to votive offerings and codices, to sanctioned inscriptions and reliefs—allows for a novel vantage point from which to consider ancient religious practices, as well as an important counterbalance to more traditional conceptual perspectives often privileged in the field.
Material remains of religious practices may reveal striking local continuity, but they also highlight points of change, as distinct moments of manufacture and use transformed both sites and objects. Yet not every religious practice leaves a trace: the embodied use of imperial statuary, the rationale for the design of particular sacred books or the ephemeral “magical” implements designed by local religious experts leave few traces, if any, and are therefore less amenable to material investigation. What does remain, however, challenges any neat association between representation and reality or literary claim and practical application.
This volume represents a significant contribution to the material approach of studying the ancient Mediterranean’s diverse religious practices. In addition to volume editors Claudia Moser and Jennifer Knust, contributors include Henri Duday, Gunnel Ekroth, David Frankfurter, Richard Gordon, Valérie Huet, William Van Andringa, and Zsuzsanna Várhelyi. Topics covered include funerary remains, sacrificial practices, “magic,” Roman altars, imperial reliefs and statuary, and the role of sacred books.
Claudia Moser is Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Jennifer Knust is Associate Professor of Religion at Boston University.