This chapter is concerned with ancient sanctuaries and their spaces as places where rituals were performed. It discusses various aspects of sanctuaries and their materiality, and the ways in which reconstructing ritual practice and performance may be approached through archaeological and written sources, which give an insight into sanctuaries and their use. Different types of sanctuaries, primarily from the Roman imperial period (the late first century bce to the fourth century ce) from a variety of locations across the Roman Empire are considered. Furthermore, a number of cults that had specific types of sanctuaries connected to them are presented, such as those of the so-called Mystery cults of, for example, Mithras and Isis. Architectural layouts as well as embellishments, such as decorations and ritual objects, are discussed in brief also, in order to explain ancient sanctuaries as places where ritual experiences occurred. Furthermore, theoretical approaches, among those, the ‘lived ancient religion’ approach, are addressed in order to situate the ways in which such approaches may further our understanding of ancient ritual spaces.
Worship and its practices occupy a central place in every religious tradition, from Christianity and Judaism to Buddhism and Hinduism. Understanding aesthetics in religion requires paying attention to the role of the human body and its artistry in devotional acts, such as the use of paintings and sculptures as aids to prayer and meditative practices. Artistic means are employed in communal worshiping traditions; sacred rituals involve artistic expressions such as dance, song, poetry, story, images, and symbolic acts. This article examines artistry and aesthetics in modern and postmodern liturgy and worship practices of the world’s religious traditions. It first looks at scholarly sources that provide evidence on the aesthetic dimensions of liturgy. It then discusses the history of worship, whether communal or individual, in a cultural context, along with the concept of worship as verbal and non-verbal performance. It also considers the “art” of leading a worshiping community and concludes with a discussion of improvisation in religious worship.
Robin M. Wright
This article is an in-depth study of the cosmology and practices of assault sorcerers. While it concentrates mostly on indigenous Amazonian societies, comparisons are drawn from other ethnographic areas of the world. It shows that assault sorcery is an integral part of a nexus of religious knowledge and power, in which primordial spirits of sickness and sorcery are embodied in all manner of assault sorcery. The world of humanity today, according to indigenous cosmogonies examined here, is imbued with violent death through sorcery, the legacy of the primordial world. Prophet movements have often been associated with sorcery among indigenous societies throughout the world. Their principal objectives include the control of assault sorcerers, although the prophets themselves have often succumbed to their violent attacks or even deployed sorcery as a mode of defense against enemies. This world has been corrupted by the incessant violence of sorcerers, which the community elders, shamanic healers, and prophets have all sought to manage and control. What the future holds with the drastic decline of shamanic healers is cause for grave concern among traditional communities.
John S. Kloppenborg
Life in the cities and towns of the Hellenistic and Roman periods was organized around two poles: the polis or town, and the family, each with its distinctive structure, organization, membership, and cultic practices. Between these two poles there existed a large number of more or less permanent private associations, guilds, and clubs. A variety of types of ritualized behaviours were common in associations, many of them mimicking political or domestic rituals. Since many associations represented non-elite persons, politically disenfranchised in the cities in which they lived, the mimicry of political rituals functioned both to create social imaginaries that connected them to the polis and to cement affective bonds.
Paul F. Bradshaw
The limited evidence for Christian initiation practices in Syria and North Africa in the third century suggests ritual patterns that differed from each other in some ways but followed the three-stage structure of rites of passage outlined by Arnold van Gennep, even if the first and third of the stages were relatively undeveloped at that time. The fourth century saw the elaboration of these together with the temporal contraction of the middle or liminal phase in the rites of Syria and Milan, as well as in the variant practice of the city of Jerusalem.
Maxwell E. Johnson
To study the rites of Christian initiation in the early church is to encounter not one but several liturgical traditions in development. This article seeks to provide an introductory overview of the sources, issues, and problems encountered in the development and interpretation of the rites of Christian initiation within early Christianity. It proceeds in two parts: from the first century to the Council of Nicaea; and from the Council of Nicaea to Augustine of Hippo. Augustine of Hippo serves as a fitting conclusion to this focus since, as a result of his controversies with both Donatism and Pelagianism, a new article in Christian initiation begins and continues throughout the medieval and even Reformation periods of church history.
Richard S. Ascough
This chapter begins by briefly discussing the prevalence of communal meals in the Roman world and then turns attention to the form and setting of communal dining. Such meals were framed as semi-public events. While not everyone was invited—indeed, only a small cadre of the especially chosen took part—banquets were often located and structured so that they could be observed. Within the meal setting itself, seating arrangements were such that each participant was also an observer. The bulk of the chapter examines how communal dining rituals model the values of the surrounding culture while also serving to mirror these values back to the banqueters, thus reinforcing and legitimating these values within the group. While meal rituals have the potential to challenge societal norms, in practice, the replication of cultural values reinforce the dominant social order.
Daniel K. Falk
Prayer as a service to God by the people is one of the most far reaching of religious practices, forming a central part of the religious practice of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; yet there is still much uncertainty about how this developed within Judaism and why. Scrolls from Qumran provide the most important corpus of evidence to shed light on the critical period during the days of the Second Temple. This article presents a case study for prayer in ancient Judaism. It is organized around the types of questions being asked: questions of definition and classification, textual questions, historical questions, questions concerning context, and questions of ideology and theology. There is a good deal of overlap between these categories, but they are be treated separately for heuristic purposes.
David L. Eastman
Veneration of holy people was a significant feature of early Christian piety. Through a collection of ritualized practices, Christians both received traditions handed down to them and contributed to the expansion of the image of the saints. Thus, ritual was a central factor in the creation of the cult of the saints. This chapter focuses on three of these practices: (1) the telling of stories; (2) pilgrimage; (3) and relic veneration. It then argues that the cult of the saints functioned to create the image of the martyrs as a special class of Christians, to promote the idea that suffering was the mark of true Christianity, to implant a distrust of government officials in Christian collective memory, and to provide opportunities for certain church leaders to control expressions of piety by the populace.
This chapter explores the intertwined themes of pilgrimage and the cult of saints in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, highlighting similarities and differences as well as issues of importance in the study of the tensions and moments of convergence that historically existed between the faiths during the Middle Ages down to the present. Current events have resulted in an existential threat to holy places and long-established customs and traditions throughout the Middle East and, indeed, to the destruction of shrines in Syria and Iraq. To that end this study explores the varieties of holy persons and places that believers of the Abrahamic faiths venerated. While traditional approaches to the cult of saints and pilgrimage and, indeed, other related themes are useful in highlighting certain relationships, a more concise framework that considers the Abrahamic dimensions of both phenomena is needed which is sensitive to the historical context and the ritual aspects.