Everything is Full of Gods: Rethinking Religion in the Roman Empire – Joe Bonni (University of Chicago)

Archaeological efforts to recreate local perspectives of colonized peoples can and should focus – like many anthropological works of living populations – on how religious practices are used in the construction of local identity.   Religious practices are entirely entangled in colonial projects of the past and the present. To explore colonial processes, the making of colonial citizens and the various forms of cooperation, ambivalence and resistance of local groups to colonial projects, Roman Dura Europos (sacked in 256/7 CE), with its ethnically and religiously diverse population and numerous historical links to various regional imperial projects (Greece, Rome, Persia) offers an appropriate site for investigating concepts such as acculturation, hybridization, internal competition and various forms of navigating relationships with an imperial center while simultaneously expressing and recreating regional and local traditional lifestyles.  This presentation will examine some of the differences and similarities of religious practice at Europos along with a brief inquiry into the possible role and significance of openly practicing Christian and Jewish populations at a time and place where traditional narratives suggest such communities were not prospering or openly practicing.  I will argue that an engagement with artifacts and architecture related to ritual practice can reveal to what degree indigenous Syrians and conquered Greek and Persian populations preserved their traditional practices, adapted Roman ones and tolerated or encouraged new ones giving voice to minority groups such as local Syrians and Christian and Jewish communities, actors oft ignored or elided in traditional narratives of Rome.

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