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Religion in the Roman Empire


Addressing studies of the concepts of structure and agency, in 2008 sociologist François Dépelteau called for a ‘relational approach’ that compared the ‘trans-actions’ of actors, but notably left open the question of how such a study should be conducted. The present article attempts to operationalise Dépelteau’s call, albeit in a manner tailored specifically to meet the needs of researchers in the area of ‘lived ancient religion’. The study of ‘trans-action’ is operationalised here by employing key terms drawn from Staf Hellemans’s ‘processing approach’ to the study of religion, in which agents ‘process’ their environments through selection, modification, assembly, performance, integration, and resonance. In the study of the religions of Mediterranean antiquity, questions of structure and agency can be addressed relationally by comparing the performances of specific actors, to the extent that such performances are accessible in the material evidence; for example, in the form of texts, statuary, art, and architecture. In an attempt to demonstrate the utility of this approach, a case study of the ritual of circumcision in ancient Judaism is offered.

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