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Taxonomies of Religion in the Ancient and Modern Worlds (1/2)

A186
Panel Chairs: Daniel Barbu, Francesco Massa | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Starting from recent studies on the invention of “paganism” and “judaism” in the fourth century, this panel will investigate historical processes that produce taxonomies of religion as part of a discourse on religious diversity. How do religious groups organize the diversity of religions? What are the narratives through which they give sense to religious diversity? What are the political forces driving the need to organize diversity? Taxonomies of religion are a central component of the discursive construction of religious identities. Drawing the boundaries between “us” vs “others” implies both comparison and systematization of religious knowledge, that is, to inscribe the rites and beliefs of others on the map. Such taxonomies can take many forms, from heresiological discourse to elaborate narratives on the cultural history of mankind. With this topic, we intend to explore the formation and uses of fundamental categories that often continue to frame the study of religion.

Daniel Barbu, Francesco Massa

Taxonomies of Religion. Introduction

Starting from recent studies on the invention of “paganism” and “judaism” in the fourth century, this panel will investigate historical processes that produce taxonomies of religion as part of a discourse on religious diversity. How do religious groups organize the diversity of religions? What are the narratives through which they give sense to religious diversity? What are the political forces driving the need to organize diversity? Taxonomies of religion are a central component of the discursive construction of religious identities. Drawing the boundaries between “us” vs “others” implies both comparison and systematization of religious knowledge, that is, to inscribe the rites and beliefs of others on the map. Such taxonomies can take many forms, from heresiological discourse to elaborate narratives on the cultural history of mankind. With this topic, we intend to explore the formation and uses of fundamental categories that often continue to frame the study of religion.

Eduard Iricinschi

Gnosis, Hairesis, and Mani: Fourth-century Religious Vocabulary and Its Modern Adjustments

“Gnosticism,” Heresiology,” and “Manichaeism” are modern concepts in constant need of theoretical fine-tuning. Over the past decades, scholars adjusted the Nag Hammadi codices and the Manichaean texts to the more general contexts of “heresy,” “gnosis,” and “dualism.” This paper explores the ways in which scholars adapted gnosis, knowledge religiously codified in rituals and teachings, and often presented as revelations about invisible realities, into “Gnosticism,” a seventeenth-century, Protestant linguistic invention, to describe the Catholic Church. It will also sketch the trajectories through which philosophical hairesis, used by second- and third-century Christian writers as a rhetorical tool to describe religious diversity and, simultaneously, to reduce it to a caricature of itself, later became “heresies,” as depicting full-blown religious, social, and political aberrations. Finally, it will suggest that modern scholars follow ancient Christian writers’ use of the same rhetoric of difference, to impose artificial boundaries between the followers of Mani and “real” Christians.

Mélanie Lozat

Religious Geographies in Strabo's Geography

In his Geography, Strabo establishes a map of the Roman Empire and the territories still to be conquered for the use of Roman power. In this context, he offers a detailed description of various countries, their dimensions and the peculiarities of their climate and nature as well as their inhabitant’s nomoi, including religious practices. Strabo constructs the identity of the Barbarians he describes according to Greek ethnographic standards, thus depicting the barbarians following the Greeks models of inversion, analogy and comparison. Starting from the way Strabo describes the religion established by Moses in Jerusalem, and comparing it with what he says of the religion of people living at the ends of the world, I will focus on his construction of religious taxonomies, and insist on the system resulting from his account of human diversity.

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