Monday, 23 February 2015

Roman religion – religions of Rome - an Interview with Professor Jörg Rüpke

Roman religion – religions of Rome
-interview with professor Jörg Rüpke -

Szabó Csaba
University of Pécs, HU

Jörg Rüpke (1962) is one of the leading scholars of Roman religious studies. Chair of the Comparative Religion at the University of Erfurt since 1999 and fellow of the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, since 2000 he chaired numerous international projects and grants, many of them dealing with various aspects of the Roman religion. With more than 20 individual monographs and 38 edited volumes, his work became unavoidable in the field of religious studies. Taking an overview or an account of his work and activity, we can have a broader view on the actual state of the Roman religious studies – a discipline in continuous formation and transformation.
You have learned Latin and theology in various universities in Germany and abroad, but formed as a scholar in Tübingen, one of the most important center for religious studies with a rigorous tradition in theological studies.  Why you choose the study of Roman religion and who influenced you in the beginning of your carrier?

In the very beginning of my studies I was interested in religions of Asia and classical antiquity too. I learned also Hebrew and Sanskrit, but after a short time I have realized that I’m much more interested on religious studies. In Bonn I had as a mentor, prof. Karl Hoheisel (1937-2011) editor and one of the authors of the Reallexikons für Antike und Christentum, the only person at the faculty who had special interests in Roman religion. Than in Tübingen I met Hubert Cancik and Burkhard Gladigow, who had an important role in my formation as a scholar.

Your Ph.D. thesis dealt with the religious aspects of the wars in Roman times[1]. In the 1990’s your interests will focus especially on the historiography of the Roman religion and the Roman calendar[2] followed after 2005 by your studies on religious rituals of the individuum and the communities[3]. How you choose a topic for a research program?

I don’t really choose a topic or research program, as a predefined plan. Usually they are born from my earlier works. For instance, my Ph.D. topic was chosen by professor Gladigow. I planned a detailed chapter on Roman festivals in military context, which wasn’t published finally in the Domi militiae. I spent all my summer of 1992 writing this chapter, on which I was very fascinated at that time. Actually, in 2-3 months, I wrote the basics of my habilitation work on Roman calendars. In the 1990’s working on so called “imperial religion” my interest turned increasingly on regionalism and local aspects of the Roman religion, which influenced my project on regionalism, provincialism and individualization too.

During this 25 year while you became a leading scholar in the study of Roman religion, the methodology of the religious studies generally – but especially in the Römische Religionsgeschichte – changed radically. Some of the scholars - like C. Robert Phillips or Carl Orson – talked even about a crisis in the methodology[4]. Is it true?
I would not affirm that we are facing now a real “crisis of the discipline”, because there is in fact, no united discipline of Roman religious studies. We are facing the flourishing of Isiac studies or Mithraic studies but having many neglected aspects too. Historicizing Roman religion is still lacking: a unified view on Roman religion or even, about ancient religion generally. Christianity and Judaism is still not integrated in the study of the ancient religions. Theology deals separately with them, as “church religion” and the religious studies too. Similarly to this, Judaism are often missing from such project, which deals with ancient Magic and religion. Important synthetizes are missing from the current research. We tried to reduce this gap in the research with the Companion to the Roman Religion[5]  and now we are working on the Companion to the archaeology of religion in the ancient world, which hopefully will also contribute for shaping the discipline[6].

One of your major works deal with the priests of the city of Rome, collecting all the sacerdotal personae from Republican time to Late Antiquity[7]. We see there hundreds of names – many of them remarkable persons of the Roman history – with different roles from the typology of Joachim Wach: founders of religions, diviners, magicians, priests…What was the impact of these people in Rome and in a smaller area, like a provincial city?

They were not so important as it seems to be. It was not like in the case of ancient Egypt or the Mesopotamian city – states, where priests had much more power and influence.  They are part of the everyday life, but the official religion is transmitted mainly by the magistrates. Priesthood had a second meaning in this social structure. Religion is set free for individual engagement and self representation in an imperial structure, which had large free spaces – in ideological and religious terms – for these functions and the dynamics between different social and religious levels and manifestations. We must analyze the priesthood of the Roman Empire strictly in connection with the imperial ideology and the concept of the empire.

Another book of you – translated in many languages, even in Korean – deals with the Roman calendar[8]. The number of the sources and the variety of the different urban Fasti are stunning, but can we reconstruct by these analogies the religious calendar of a Roman individual too? Or the religious Fasti of a provincial city?

Some of the intellectuals and the literates surely had personalized calendars. We know this from ancient sources, like Ovid or Petronius that some of the Romans had scrolled calendars or marked the black and white days with nails on a wall. It was a symbol for personal beliefs. In the case of cities, we must highlight the difference about East and West. In the Near East, the Julian calendar was introduces lately, because most of the urban centers had their own specific fasti.  However, even in the West, the local calendars and religious holydays – known mainly from the Hispanic municipal laws and some fragmentary preserved urban fasti[9] – were very diversified, with few common festivals, like the Saturnalia or the imperial holydays.  It is important to mention, that the monumental marble calendars are disappear even from Rome after the time of Tiberius, which suggest that the new Julian calendar – and the fasti itself – became an integrated part of the Roman society.

Dealing with the faith of the ancient man is a risky job. We know some puzzles from different periods, times and places about the faith and individual acts, feelings, cloths, places and instruments of religious manifestation. It is like reconstructing the life of a star by astronomers: you need analogies. What do we know about Roman religion in fact?
About the feelings and direct, religious experiences of the Roman people we have very few information. But we can ask also, what do we know the religious experience of our generation? We had almost the same lack of information about the religiosity of the people from the beginning of the XXth century. With the exception of some personal journals, short remarks, poems and interviews we don’t know how they interacted and lived their religion. It is the same with the Romans: we have mainly the official façade of the religiosity, the self expression and representation of the people, with some laconic sources of personal religiosity, mainly from literary and epigraphic texts.
You are a member and coordinator of many international projects. Some of them, like the “Religiöse Individualisierung in historischer Perspektive” (second project: 2012 – 2017) has already a great echo in the international literature[10]. What are the perspectives and main ideas of this project?
In this project we are working together with theologians, historians, archaeologists and historians of religions mainly from Europe, but having also collaborators from India, China and New Zeeland.  Our main aim is to bringing together discernable patterns, mainly focusing not only one society, but the transfer of different agents of religion in and outside of a group. We also want to analyze some historiographical aspects, redefining also the term of “religion” in the frame of this new perspective of the individual.  As a perspective for this project, we will organize small workshops and conferences on the topic.
Another project is entitled “Lived Ancient Religion (2012-2017)”[11]. In this work we can find many young scholars also, dealing with some particular aspects of ancient religion like the small sanctuaries, the religious life of Ostia or Karanis. Why this project was founded and what are the main tasks of it?
The project is aiming to present the “lived religion” not as a supplementum or alternative for “cults” and “polis religion”, but as a perspective of it. Using the methodology of Meredith McGuire on embodied practices of the contemporary religion only as a starting point, the project’s aim is not to recreate a methodology of this kind for ancient societies and individuals, but more to use as a starting point for new perspectives. Having already organized important workshops and conferences, the research group will meet next time at Copenhagen in May, 2014[12].
Beside publishing books and articles on Roman religion, religious studies and historiography, you are also a very dynamic culture diplomat, elected in 2012 as a member in the German Council of Science and Humanities. How do you see the future of classical studies in Germany and generally, in Europe? What are the main problems or tendencies and how could we change it?
Classical studies as a privilege of the intellectual bourgeois is in disappearance even in Italy, Germany or Switzerland.   However, it is still easier to find financial support for project in the Western countries. Many of the studies are focusing on “globalization” in Roman world or on the relation of Rome and China – as a postmodern, actual topic. But this is only what the professionals see. For the rest of the world it is very important to present to Roman Empire and it’s heritage in Europe, the Near East and North Africa as an opportunity to share, making international projects and collaborations.

Phillips, R. 2007. Approaching Roman religion: the case for Wissenschaftgeschichte. In: Rüpke J. 2007. 12-25.
Rüpke, J. 2011. Time and festival. A Cultural history of the Calendar. Seoul.
Rives, D. 2010. Graeco – Roman Religion in the Roman Empire: Old Assumptions and New Approaches. In: Currents in Biblical Research 8, 240-299.
Rüpke, J. 2012. Lived ancient religion: questioning „cults” and „polis religion”. In: Mythos 5, 191-204.
Rüpke, J. 1990. Domi militiae. Die religiöse Konstruktion des Krieges in Rom. Stuttgart.
Rüpke, J. 2013. (Ed.) The individual in the religions of the Ancient Mediterranean. Oxford.
Rüpke, J. 1993. Religion bei Eduard Norden: die ’Altrömischen Priesterbücher’ im wissenschaftlischen Kotext der dreissiger Jahre. Magdeburg.
Rüpke, J. 2014. (Ed.) A Companion to the archaeology of the ancient world. New York (forthcoming)
Rüpke, J. 1995. Kalender und Öffentlichkeit: die Geschichte des geschichtlichen Bewusteins und seiner Verschiftlichungsformen in der Antike. Potsdam.

Rüpke, J. 2001. Religion der Römer: eine Einführung. München.

Rüpke, J. 2005. Fasti sacerdotum. Prosopographie der stadtrömischen Priesterschaften römischer, griechischer, orientalischer und jüdisch – christlicher Kulte bis 499 n. Chr. Stuttgart.

Rüpke, J. 2007. (Ed.) A Companion to Roman Religion. New York.

[1] Rüpke 1990.
[2] Rüpke 1993, Rüpke 1995.
[3] Rüpke 2001.
[4] Phillips 2007, Rives 2010.
[5] Rüpke 2007.
[6] Rüpke 2014.
[7] Rüpke 2005.
[8] Rüpke 2011.
[9] About the urban calendars see: Rüpke 1995, 95-165, Reeves 2004.
[10] Rüpke 2013.
[11] Rüpke 2012.
[12] Workshops of the project: Presence of death in lived religion. 11th EASR Annual Conference 2012 „Ends and beginnings”, Södertörn University, Stockholm, 23-26 August, 2012;  Archaeology of Lived Religion in Antiquity, Rome, 5-7th November, 2012; “Sharpening the knife”: making religion effective in everyday life. Erfurt, 11-14 June, 2013; The role of objects-creating meaning in situations. Eisenach, 9-11 October,2013; Stories told and memories uttered – Ettersburg/Weimar, 29-31 January, 2014,