Religions of Ancient Italy

Religions of Ancient Italy

By Massimiliano Di Fazio

The Peoples of Ancient Italy, Ed. by G. Farney, G. Bradley (De Gruyter, 2017)

Introduction: The study of religions in ancient Italy poses two main questions: the first one pertains to the term “religion,” the second to the concept of “ancient Italy.” The latter problem is tackled in the preface to this book: I only specify that the ambit of this chapter will be mostly confined to central Italy and part of the south, excluding Magna Graecia and the northern areas.

About the term “religion,” the last decades have seen the development of a relevant debate that finds its roots already in the beginnings of the twentieth century (Scheid 2013). Several scholars have recently asserted that “religion” is a meaningless concept before the modern era, a concept basically connected with the spread of Christianity, but hard to conceive in ancient times, when it was rather “embedded” (Beard, North and Price 1998, 43; see Nongbri 2013 with critical assessment).

On the other side, scholars have stressed the “colonialist” and evolutionist perspective that lies behind the consideration of Classical religions as less developed and spiritually poorer than modern religions (Scheid 2013, 41‒49, 175‒191). Such debate, in the end, is likely to depend on the definition of what “religion” means (see Casadio 2010 and North 2014 for thoughtful considerations, and more generally Coleman 2010, 104‒ 109 with overview on the fundamental debate between different approaches by Clifford Geertz and Talal Asad).

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Pyrgi Tablets – photo by Saliko / Wikimedia Commons

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