Monday, March 25, 2013

Popular religion

...the dichotomous concept of official versus popular religion was not derived from ancient Near Eastern antiquity but, as noted by Vrijhof (1979: 674), from the “institutionalized and codified Christian religion in the western world.” Summarizing this view, Zevit (2003: 226–27) states that “the origin of the distinction lies in the relationship of the Western Church to the indigenous religions of Europe during and after the Middle Ages. Initially, the two were in competition; but when the Church grew in power and authority through its connections with the leading social groups of the emerging nation-states, indigenous religions were denigrated and held to be primitive superstitions.” Later, the division between official and popular religion or Volksfrömmigkeit was taken up by the Volkskunde of the 19th century C.E. and was developed to analyze customs of people in the Christian—mainly Catholic—societies of Europe (Vrijhof 1979: 1–6, 668–704; Ebertz and Schultheis 1986: 11–52). In this context, the term “popular religion” denotes a phenomenon in which laymen took elements of orthodox Catholic beliefs, rites, and symbols and redefined and reused them for their own religious purposes. For example, they erected crosses with the Corpus Christi in fields as apotropaic or fertility symbols. Thus, popular religion in this original sense is a degenerate subtype of official Christian religion. It presupposes the establishment of orthodoxy, a clear stratification between a priestly elite and an unprofessional laity, and a supposed priestly monopoly over all benefits of salvation.—Family and Household Religion in Ancient Israel and the Levant, page 50

<idle musing>
I'm wading through this book right now; it's a monster, but very interesting. Unfortunately, it doesn't lend itself to excerpts very well...

Anyway, this is a classic example of taking modern, present day society and superimposing it on the past. It will inevitably lead to skewed results. This is a problem for ANE studies as much as it is for biblical studies...
</idle musing>

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