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date: 04 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the contrast frequently drawn in studies of ancient Greek religion between ritual practice and belief. It looks back, first, at the early history of this contrast, focusing in particular on the work of Robertson Smith (specifically his Lectures on the Religion of the Semites), and locates his evolutionary model of religion, his conception of how primitive religion shook off the ‘husk of material embodiment’, in his particular religious commitment. It then offers an analysis of the common objections to the use of the term ‘belief’ (articulated, in particular, by Rodney Needham and, within Classics, by Simon Price), and critiques recent discussions that have given some place to belief, but see it as penumbral to ritual action. Drawing then on an eclectic range of material (from philosophy as well as cognitive science of religion), the chapter articulates an alternative model of ‘belief’—and of the relationship with ritual practice—applicable to the study of Greek religion.

Keywords: ritual practice, belief, history, Robertson Smith, Simon Price, Rodney Needham, cognitive science of religion, philosophy, evolutionary model of religion

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