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Rituals as media and content of religious education in later antiquity

Panel Chair: Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler | Tuesday, August 25, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

The panel focuses on ritual and religious education in two closely related ways. On the one hand, it inquires into how knowledge about rituals and ritual competence are transmitted, how rituals are ‚taught‘ and ‚learned‘. How important is discursive knowledge about the purported meaning(s) of ritual in different religious traditions? Are there any purposeful processes of instruction, or does one learn ritual exclusively by doing or by experience? What about rituals that are performed only once in a lifetime? On the other hand, we focus on the use of rituals as an effective, because performative and multisensory, medium employed to impart and engrain doctrinal or discursive knowledge. We study examples from later antiquity (2nd-5th cent. A.D.), a period in which the ritual panorama of the Roman Empire experiences important changes, such as the rise of Christianity with its newly designed rituals and the decline in public animal sacrifices. In doing so, we aim both at a better understanding of these historical processes by looking at them from the vantage point of religious education and at refining our terminology and approaches for theorizing religious education from a history of religions perspective.

Christoph Auffarth

How to unlearn pagan rituals in Christian times - the case of sacrifice

Sacrifice is regarded as the central ritual in the ancient religions, a Mediterranean longue durée (B. Gladigow). But in Late Antiquity the ritual ceased to be performed. In part, the Christian rejection of animal sacrifice is one cause for the end of sacrifice; at least the legal prohibition of sacrifices by the Christian emperors. There are, however, other causes, which are not connected with the rise of Christian religion. Concerning the question of learning and unlearning, the paper will analyze how rituals are learned and, if they are rejected and forbidden, how they can be unlearned. Are there other rituals, which may serve as equivalent such as the eucharist as ‘bloodless sacrifice’ (ἀναίμακτος θυσία), drawing on the metaphors of breaking the body and shedding blood. And did Christians change their diet to a vegetarian one?

Martin Döbler

Teaching the Eucharist East and West I: Ambrose’s De mysteriis and De sacramentis

While over the last decades religious education has been studied mostly in and from contemporary contexts, current research has opened a historical and systematic perspective on this topic. Tanaseanu-Döbler/Döbler proposed an analytical frame for the study of religious education. Drawing on that framework, this paper will examine one aspect of late antique Christian religious education from the 4./5. century AD: the central ritual of the Eucharist. How was this ritual taught? To what addressees? Did the ritual itself serve as medium for religious education? The paper will follow these questions by concentrating on Ambrose of Milan and two works on the sacraments attributed to him. This case study from the Latin West is the first part of a joint presentation; the second part will focus on the Greek East.

Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler

Teaching the Eucharist East and West II: the Greek East

This paper is the second part of a joint presentation on the Eucharist as content and medium of religious education in Late Antiquity and focuses on two types of sources from the Greek-speaking East: post-baptismal instructions to the neophytes and liturgical regulations. How is the ritual taught? What aspects are emphasised for which group of addresees, and what are the aims of instruction – e.g. ritual competence for participation or the engraining of doctrinal knowledge? What role does the ritual context of post-baptismal instruction play in the process of teaching about the Eucharist? And finally: can the ritual of the Eucharist be considered not only as a content to be transmitted, but also in its turn as a medium for imparting further religious knowledge and competence? By exploring these questions and relating the answers to the results of the corresponding study on the Latin West, we will gain on the one hand a better understanding of the dynamics of late antique Christian ritual in its historical context. On the other hand, our findings will contribute to the theorizing of religious education from a History of Religions perspective.

Silviu Anghel

The Role of Rituals in the Civic Identity and Hellenic Education in Late Antique Athens

Ancient Athens is perhaps one of the most important centers of education in the Roman Empire. Education did not take place only in classrooms or libraries, but through public festivals and religious rituals, for Hellenism, for Athenians, embraced literature, history, philosophy as well as religion. Hellenic rituals are attested in Athens throughout Late Antiquity. Leading Athenians gladly – and publicly, financed and organized Hellenic rituals on behalf of the city. Why were rituals so important for Athens when they seem to have been neglected, forgotten or even banished in other cities. The answer is connected with the role rituals had in Athenian Hellenic education and civic identity.

The present paper will explore the connection between education, civic identity and rituals. It will first discuss some particular rituals and religious feasts, from literary evidence, as well as some archaeological and epigraphic testimonia. This survey will provide a brief introduction to rituals in Late Antique Athens, focusing on how they were shaped and taught within a circle of highly educated intellectuals. Public and civic rituals performed in turn by leading citizens had an important educational and formative value. The last part of the paper will explore to what extent the preservation and the transmission of rituals was due to the Hellenic identity and strong sense of local history of the citizens of Athens.


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