|Marika Rauhala, Post-doctoral researcher
The Dynamics of Religious Prejudice in Greco-Roman Antiquity: Limits of Acceptance, Religious Identity and Images of Disapproval from the Fifth to the First Century BCE
The Dynamics of Religious Prejudice focuses on religious self-presentation and the antithetic creation of religious otherness in the Greco-Roman world from the fifth to the first century BCE. It explores rhetorical demarcations of acceptable piety, the development of negative religious stereotypes, as well as forms of religious control and coercion in antiquity. The concept of prejudice indicates here negatively charged mental images and evaluative tendencies directed at religious thinking or practice. This project challenges the current view of ancient religious intolerance as an exceptional phenomenon mainly related to crises. Instead, prejudices are viewed as part of the process of constructing a positive religious identity in intra- and intergroup situations. The project aims at disclosing the socio-political as well as ideological dynamics behind various expressions of religious prejudice and thus advancing our awareness of why religious prejudices rise in certain contexts.
The principal source material for this study is ancient literature. The elite’s writings are seen not only as reflecting but also actively shaping collective perceptions and social reality. The material is analysed by using two complementary approaches. The study of mental images scrutinizes the formation, persistence and change of mental impressions in their cultural context, while the social identity approach will help to explain prejudices in relation to group-based identities and social competition. In Greece and Rome religion was an important arena for the exercise of power. Thus, the project investigates various claims to religious authority and how the construction of prejudices was related to existing social hierarchies and power structures. The hypothesis to be tested is that pronounced religious control was connected with situations where the elite sought resources to buttress their own position.
The innovative integration of two theoretical approaches to the study of ancient religious discourse along with the comprehensive scope of the study, which embraces both Greek and Roman cultures and socio-political systems, is likely to offer new insights into ancient religious thinking and the ongoing debate on the construction of identities and otherness. Moreover, the study of prejudice will contribute to the better understanding of the intricacies of contemporary conflicts where religious imagery and religiously justified boundaries between opposing groups are often foregrounded.