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Defining Religious Minorities in a Pre-Global World (Antiquity and Late Antiquity) (1/2)

Panel Chair: Alessandro Saggioro | Monday, August 24, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

“Religious minority” as a concept is well known in the contemporary world, permanently under discussion in politics with regard to religious freedom and in scientific research concerning the establishing of a current concept of “religion” and religious identity. This panel aims at discussing some questions about the definition of “minoritarian” groups or small religious groups in relationship to the majority or main stream religions. Reflecting on the past and focusing on the Ancient Near East, the Mediterranean and the Christian world in Antiquity, it is our purpose to contribute to a critical understanding of the contemporary globalized religious dynamics as a coherent part of world history. In this panel, we aim to investigate the interplay between the global framework and the local dynamics in societies, as a historical matrix within which the religious minority as a concept has been conceived and the religious minoritarian groups self-represented. Such a poly-focused field of research aims at critically reflecting on the cultural (political, social, religious, linguistic) network within which the religious groups interacted with other groups, on the normative space within which the dynamics of inclusion and/or exclusion had been achieved, on the narrative social understanding of religious minority as concept, identity, group, and agency. Regarding religious groups as loci of cohabitation, rather than emphasizing their ideological and theological polarizations, we suggest taking into account the sources they produced as instruments of self-representation.

This panel aims to offer answers to the following questions: How do minorities or small religious groups define themselves in relation to the State or dominant/majoritarian religions? How does a State or a dominant religious group interact with those groups or communities that seem not to conform to mainstream beliefs? How does negotiation of self-definition determine conflict or facilitate cohabitation of religious groups? How does religious identity impact on ancient and modern conceptions of “religious freedom” and how may we assess our understanding of this process in a historical perspective? Eventually, how do both documentary and literary sources thematize, represent and discuss these issues?

This panel was planned in conjunction with that proposed by Marianna Ferrara, “Defining Religious Minorities in a Global World (Early Modern History)”. Both panels will be published as a theme section of the Journal Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni.

Santiago Montero,  Diego Mateo Escámez de Vera

Minorities and divination practices in the Roman Empire

In the present paper we will analyze the divination practices attributed by the classics to some minorities within the Empire and, in the provincial context, to certain groups and sects. They consist on rites which, most of the times, are alien to the official practices carried out by specialized priests in the municipal and provincial cadres. We will also analyze how these official practices – auguratio, haruspicina – become the minority with the triumph of Christianity in the IV century AD, and so inductive divination becomes a minority phenomenon with the rise of revelation, prophecy and natural divination.

Luca Arcari

'Minority' as a Practice of Self-definition in Second Temple Judaism (Dead Sea Scrolls, 1 Enoch)

With this paper I intend to analyze some practices of self-definition well attested in several documents of Second Temple Judaism, wherein a concept more or less coincident with our definition of minority assumes a pivotal role (Dead Sea Scrolls and 1 Enoch). My principal focus is to underline how a practice of self-definition, in terms of an actual or of a perceived minority as regards a broader context (or a context culturally constructed as a macro-context), proves the interactions between neighboring groups that share actual and symbolic spaces. First of all, the paper aims to focus on distinct aspects concerning the implicit value of the documents analyzed: for example, the use of specific literary forms and/or specific terminology, the reformulation of traditional topoi, the use of appellatives and formulae that also characterize contexts represented and/or considered as ‘other’ in order to construct a viable representation of the self. In such a perspective, the paper will also pay attention to cases of re-negotiated identities, in which the 'other' appears to be re-constructed in terms of conflict, with the aim of defining specific group identities. My paper intends to analyze the construction of conflicts as instruments of self-definition, rather than mirrors of real and/or well-documented social contrasts.

Mar Marcos

When Christians Called for Religious Freedom: the Rhetoric of the “New Race”

As it had been the normal situation throughout the history of the ancient Mediterranean, a plurality of religious groups and traditions coexisted in Rome, without any theoretical discourse over religious freedom having ever been formulated. Religious cohabitation changed with the spread of Christianity. As a monotheistic, exclusivist religion with a universalistic scope, Christianity was incompatible with the traditional religious practices of the Graeco-Roman world as well as with the religious demands of the Roman state. During the persecutions, Christian apologists developed a discourse in favour of religious freedom founded on arguments of various kinds, including Rome’s traditional toleration based on the respect for ‘national’ religions. Searching for legitimacy and in order to gain the same respect as the other ‘nations’, apologists brought out the argument of the ‘new race’. Christianity should be accepted as a licit religion because it constitutes a tertium genus, after the Greeks and the Jews. But the rhetoric argument of ethnicity, flexible and ambiguous as it was, could turn a dangerous one. From the outside, Christians were also seen contemptuously as a distinct race, foreign to Graeco-Roman culture and suspicious of misanthropy and political disloyalty. To counteract pagan criticism, apologists reshaped the argument of ethnicity to stress the universal character of their religion. The aim of this paper is to study the use of the argument of race in the building of the early Christian discourse on identity and religious freedom, and the many rhetorical values of this reasoning in apologetic contexts.



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