You are here:

  • blog

Sanctuaries and Experience: Knowledge, Practice and Space in the Ancient World

Written by Ilaria Bultrighini and Camilla Norman |

Postdoctoral Research Fellows Dr. Ilaria Bultrighini and Dr. Camilla Norman report on a recent conference hosted by the Institute of Classical Studies.

Sanctuaries Experience

The conference ‘Sanctuaries and Experience: Knowledge, Practice and Space in the Ancient World’ was held at Senate House, London, on 8th–10th April 2019. It marked the culmination of a five-year project funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation through an Anneliese Maier Research Prize held by ICS Director Greg Woolf and led by him and Jörg Rüpke from the University of Erfurt. The primary aim of the project is to establish conversations among a variety of different disciplines to develop a better set of understandings of the religious function of ancient sanctuaries. It has done this by running workshops and sponsoring conferences in Germany, the UK and Spain, and one doctorate.

The conference was organised by Greg Woolf together with the two of us, as part of our role as post-doctoral research fellows within the project. It brought a diverse group of researchers together to discuss the ways in which sanctuaries, and the activities that took place around them, formed religious experience and reproduced religious knowledge across the ancient world. When we prepared the call for papers, we explicitly aimed at attracting researchers from a range of different disciplines including prehistoric, classical and late antique archaeology, social anthropology and ancient history, art history, Jewish and early Christian studies, and the history of religions, covering the wider Mediterranean region including the Near East and North Africa. Moreover, we expected some papers would focus on individual experiences, including sensory dimensions of the rituals that took place at sanctuaries, others on cognitive and even literary-historical kinds of knowledge. We hoped some papers would deal with material culture, some with images, some with religious spaces, others with epigraphic and literary texts.

Our hopes and expectations were met. The three-day conference, attended by almost 80 people, comprised a total of 20 papers and 5 posters which dealt with pre-Roman Italy and Magna Graecia (Camilla Norman; Giovanni Mastronuzzi, Davide Tamiano, Giacomo Vizzino; Tesse Stek; Marco Serino; Arianna Zapelloni Pavia), ancient Egypt (Thomas Gamelin), Archaic to Hellenistic Greece (Rita Sassu; Ilaria Bultrighini; Erica Angliker, Yannos Kourayos, Kornilia Daifa; Livia Maria Mutinelli; Kate Caraway; Tulsi Parikh), Roman Greece (Georgia Petridou; Elena Franchi), Early & Imperial Rome (Katharina Rieger; Marlis Arnhold; Krešimir Vuković; Jaime Alvar Ezquerra; Emma-Jayne Graham; Csaba Szabó; Vincenzo Timpano), the Roman Near East (Dominic Dalglish), Greece and Rome in comparison (Katja Sporn), as well as papers focusing more on theoretical issues relating to ancient sanctuaries (Esther Eidinow; Jörg Rüpke). A full programme can be accessed via this link.

Hugh Bowden talks to conference delegates at the London Mithraeum (Image credit Camilla Norman)
Hugh Bowden talks to conference delegates at the London Mithraeum (Image credit Camilla Norman).

The occasion was one of great conviviality, with the combined papers offering much food for thought. Discussions continued outside the conference room into planned social events and spontaneous gatherings, including the now seemingly obligatory break for a fire alarm. An excellent conference dinner was enjoyed at the Life Goddess and the entire event was rounded off by a trip to the London Mithraeum, where participants were fortunate enough to be given insights to the history of the site and its reimagining by Hugh Bowden who was one of the leading consultants in is restoration.

We have now begun working on the proceedings, which will (hopefully) include contributions by all the paper and poster presenters as well as a number of additional articles by further international experts who could not join our conference. The volume will take an interdisciplinary approach and illustrate a variety of current developments in the study of ritual practice, knowledge and experience as it took place in relation to sanctuaries in antiquity.