Gods Don’t Die. Resistance, Resilience, Revival of Deities and Cult Practices

“Just because we broke their statues, just because we drove them out of their temples, in no way did the gods die because of this”, wrote Konstantinos Kavafis in 1911. Indeed, gods tend to show remarkable resilience skills. In the face of political and cultural changes, divine beings and cult practices are often able to adapt to new contexts. Their images and sacred places may maintain or resume their vitality, even if in partially different form. Moreover, long after the disappearance of their statues and temples, gods often continue, more or less undisturbed, to roam immaterial places, from literature and art to folklore and popular culture.

This open workshop session aims at exploring how deities and cults were able to cope with broader processes of political, economic and cultural transformation affecting the societies which expressed and worshipped them. Of course, gods live primarily in the minds of their believers; therefore, by bringing together a range of case studies from different cultural and historical contexts, we intend to explore how communities and individuals adjusted their gods and cult practices to challenging situations and found a way for them to survive in a changed environment. Although our primary focus will be on the ancient world and especially Graeco-Roman antiquity, we welcome proposals from other geographical and chronological contexts as well, in order to approach the topic also from a comparative perspective.

Possible topics include (but are not limited to): how local deities and cults reacted in the face of invasion, conquest, colonisation; how individuals and communities adapted their ancestral gods when entering into contact with other religious practices (be it through forced displacement, voluntary emigration, or more occasional cultural contacts); how the religious landscape of a community was transformed due to internal political, social and cultural developments; how traditional gods were updated and refashioned to make them more appealing to a changed society; how gods and cult practices which seemed to have disappeared resurfaced after a period of underground survival. The discussion will aim at clarifying the roles played by different actors – from priests to simple believers, from local communities to political authorities – within such processes, by comparing top-down and bottom-up approaches in a trans-cultural perspective.