Jews, Christians, Pagans? Religious Inclusion and Exclusion in Asia Minor until the reign of Decius, 5.-7. Juni 2014, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt/Main

The Roman Empire was affected by its multi-religious society, whose cults and religious views interacted in a number and a variety of ways. The difficulty of a description of these interactions is reflected in the scientific treatment of the central texts of Classical Antiquity. Thus, recent research on the Apocalypse of St John was governed by the hypothesis that it had been created as a response to the Roman Empire’s mechanisms of repression. Hereby the Roman Empire is generally represented in the role of a repressive, imperialist power, while Christianity is depicted as the oppressed victim. This assumption implies a problematic and monolithic understanding of the Roman Empire, which ultimately seems to be inspired particularly by the experiences of the 20th century. In addition, there is the claim that Christianity had already gained a consistent shape and was marked by continuity on the turn from the 1st to the 2nd century. However, a glance at the conflicts appearing in the missive of the Apocalypse shows that the people involved cannot be allotted to any given “interior” or “exterior”, but that we are mainly dealing with a discussion of inter-Christian disputes. Furthermore, there is the fact that conflict situations from city to city will have differed to some extent. In this research situation scholars are presented with the task of replacing the simple opposition between the Roman Empire and Christianity by hypotheses increasing the complexity which do not aim to seek fixed identities, but to inquire about the regional and supra-regional inclusion and exclusion in respect to political and religious participation. In effect, the boundaries of what is currently identified as pagan, Jewish or Christian must be surveyed and re-determined. Using the example of Roman Asia Minor we can exemplify what has been repeatedly brought up in discussion since the day of Johann Salomo Semler (1725-1791), but has also been recurrently denied with even greater intensity: the diversity of Christianity from its very beginning. What remains to be investigated here is the question of whether supra-regional labels of identity, such as “Roman Empire”, “province”, “polis”, “citizenship”, “Christianity”, “Judaism”, “devotees of Zeus” etc. actually served to determine everyday life and reality in a given region. Or, on the other hand, if it was not rather the varying local conditions which were responsible for structuring the inhabitants’ day-to-day existence to a much greater extent. It will therefore be important to examine how Christianity contributed to the diversity of the society of Asia Minor and was in turn itself influenced by this diversity. Hereby we have following working hypothesis: The diversity of the society of Asia Minor is connected both to the diversity of ancient Judaism and the diversity of evolving Christianity, which was a part of this society. What remains to be expounded is whether collective terms, such as “pagan”, “Jew” or “Christian” can contribute to a historical understanding of reality in Antiquity, or rather obstruct it.


Graduate Workshop „Religious Differentiation in the Transitional Period from High to Late Empire” – Goethe-University, Frankfurt am Main, 29-30 November 2013

The transitional period from the High to Late Empire (2nd to 4th century AD) was a time of great religious change and diversity. So far, the focus of research was, and still is, on the rise of Christianity from a suspiciously-eyed sect to the state-sponsored religion of the Roman Empire. There also is the question of how Christians and pagans came to terms with each other, or how they attempted to separate themselves from eachother in this changing society. However, Christianity was not the only new religion to gain ground. Other new cults and practices centred on common ritual, others on a personal divine experience, some focussing on the immanent, others on the transcendent world. Looking at the response of Roman State, the religious policies of the Roman emperors appear to differ to a large degree. Decius, for instance, imposed a general ban on sacrifice at least factually directed against the Christians. Other emperors, such as Gallienus, who maintained contacts with the Neo-Platonic school, and Aurelian, who supported the cult of the sun god, specifically promoted certain forms of pagan religion, while being still regarded as being well-disposed towards Christians. Likewise, Diocletian and Constantine were among the adherents of Sol before the first created the tetrarchy as an entirely new symbiosis between religiosity and political rule, and before the second turned towards the god of the Christians in a symbolically potent step. How, then, from the perspective of the adherents of pagan cults, is one to deal with a religion such as Christianity, with its claim to universality and exclusivity? To which degree were the various religions and cults even visible in public? Did religiously neutral spaces come into existence? Is it at all possible to apply the observations arising from modern debates on secularisation to this transitional period? Did any particular integrative mechanism exist which allowed for religious coexistence? How far did a new normative order for dealing with this religious diversity develop among both those in power and among the followers of these different religions? These, among others, are some of the topics and questions we hope to investigate during the workshop in Frankfurt.

Antique Mythology in the Context of Late Antiquity – Images, Spaces, Texts November 22.-24., 2012, Frankfurt am Main

Even in a Christianised Roman Empire mythological figures and narratives remained ever present: Either as works of art, still visible in public places and private homes and simply not yet having been removed, or as the purposefully recurring topics both of sculpture and fine arts, of literature and political communication. To which extent, then, is it possible to speak about any actual survival of paganism? Were mythological scenes regarded as “neutral” from a religious point of view? Was their presentation simply a matter of aesthetics? To what extent do we have to expect different readings to have been deliberately intended? And where did mythological subjects become adopted into a Christian context; possibly by allegoresis? Can we further observe any chronological developments or local distinctions? Although these and other, similar questions are often posed in a number of different disciplines, it is seldom the case that they enjoy any substantial interdisciplinary discussion. This, to be precise for the time frame from between the fourth and sixth centuries, was the aim of the conference in Frankfurt. Articles based on the given papers will be published in a conference volume. In order to achieve high consistency, we have created a forum for the participants of the conference to view and comment on submitted articles prior to publication.