Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review of Barton and Boyarin, Imagine No Religion

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Carlin A. Barton, Daniel Boyarin, Imagine No Religion. How Modern Abstractions Hide Ancient Realities. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. Pp. 325. ISBN 9780823271207. $35.00 (pb). Reviewed by Anders Klostergaard Petersen, University of Aarhus (
Barton’s and Boyarin’s monograph is related to Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (New Haven, Yale UP 2013), a volume that has justifiably attracted considerable attention in disciplines devoted to the study of the ancient Graeco-Roman world. Barton and Boyarin refer in important places to Nongbri who has also provided them with their introductory, orally-transmitted, Edwin Judge contention that one should avoid the term religion in translations of ancient texts. Barton and Boyarin follow this injunction with relentless effort, arguing that any rendering of Greek and Latin terms (notably thr─ôskeia and religio, but also the related terms deisidaimonia and superstitio) by the word ‘religion’ is an anachronistic distortion. The argument is cogently pursued in Tertullian and Josephus (and some additional authors) held emblematically to illustrate the problem at stake.

But do the authors overshoot their point by moving from the emic to the etic?

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