Master Of Arts Essay

1165 words - 5 pages

The Ancient Mediterranean has long fascinated me. In the seventh grade, I learned of Greece and Rome, spurring me to read further. During that year, I presented projects on the Sistine Chapel and Emperor Constantine, both of which would later inspire my senior undergraduate thesis on the Sibyls in Lactantius. My interest in Greek and Roman Culture led me to major in the Classics (Greek and Latin) at the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA), with a minor in Religious Studies. After working towards a masters, I want to pursue a doctorate in the study of the religion of the late Roman Empire, with the intent on an academic career in Religious Studies. I want to offer students ...view middle of the document...

Both pagan and Christian traditions existed as a spectrum. Christians, for example, often partook in Roman cult practices. One Bishop, Gelasius of Rome (495 C.E.), reproached Christians for participating the Roman fertility festival of the Lupercalia. As Mary Beard so aptly writes, "The boundary between paganism and Christianity was much more fluid than that simple dichotomy would suggest and much more fluid than some Christian bishops would have liked to allow." A counter example is the emperor Severus Alexander (209-235 C.E.). The author of the Historia Augusta writes that Severus Alexander wanted to build a temple to Christ and add him to the pantheon. Later in the Historia Augusta, the emperor, it was said, placed religious figures, such as Christ, Abraham, Orpheus, and Apollonius of Tyana, in his household shrine.
This case of Severus Alexander interests me because it potentially portrays a Pagan cult of Christ. Similarly, M. Frede and P. Athanassiadi in Pagan Monotheism argue that the term "monotheism" is an artificial category, whose designation creates the category of "polytheism". They both aim to deconstruct these boundaries, elucidating how many so-called Pagans held beliefs akin to Judeo-Christian monotheism. I would like to be part of this trend of seeing Roman religion as a spectrum of fluid beliefs, with many facets, among which is Christianity.
Ancient authors had their own perspectives of the religion they describe. Often, scholars have taken Christian authors' accounts completely at face value, neglecting to consult the pagan voices of the time. Jonathan Z. Smith, professor of religion at Chicago Divinity School, has made the statement that he studies "dead religions" partly because the practitioners do not have the ability to talk back. While his statement is not meant to be taken completely at face-value, such a sentiment is disturbing for the study of ancient religion. The same care should be given to represent ancient religion as would be done to lived religion. It is imperative to not bring modern assumptions unknowingly into the portrayal of the religious culture of the Later Roman Empire. Instead, we should mindfully examine the religion of the Later Roman Empire on its own terms, as best as we can. This is why, I wish to hear what Pagan authors have to say about their religious culture. Furthermore, where their testimony is absent, I aim to not make an argument out of their silence. By placing Pagan and Christian thoughts in conversation we get a fuller picture of religion in late antiquity.
I am eager to move to the next level...

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