Networks and Religious Innovation in the Roman Empire
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Why do some religious movements succeed and spread, while others, seemingly equally popular and successful at a certain time, ultimately fail? It is from this starting point that this thesis approaches religious success or failure in the Roman Empire: exploring a new analytical method for understanding religious change: network theory. The thesis forms two parts. Part I sets out the theoretical frameworks. The focus of network theory is on the processes by which innovation spreads: how interconnectedness facilitates change. Although some innovations might be ‘superior’, viewing success or failure as the result of interplay between inherent qualities of a religious movement and the structure of the social environment in which it is embedded means it is possible to reduce value judgements about superiority or inferiority. The discussion then turns to religious change. The key point is that sociologists of religion can explain something of the processes of religious conversion (or ‘recruitment’) and the success or failure of a religious movement through an analysis of social interactions. Finally, I explain how I shall use networks both as a heuristic approach and a practical modelling technique to apply to the epigraphic data, and detail some of the previous application of networks to archaeological test cases. Part II applies these methods to the epigraphic data of three religions. In Chapter Four, I examine the cult Jupiter Dolichenus, arguing that the previous explanations for the success of the cult are untenable, showing from the epigraphy that the cult spread through a strong-tie network of Roman military officials. In Chapter Five, I look at the development of Jewish identity in the Diaspora, showing that, during the second century AD, Diaspora Jews began to actively display their Jewish identity in their epitaphs. I argue that this re-Judaization represents the ‘activation’ of an ethno-cultural network, as a response to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the crushing of the Bar Kokhba rebellion; the visible remains of the rabbinic reforms. In Chapter Six, I discuss the cult of the ‘Highest God’, Theos Hypsistos, taking Mitchell’s argument further to suggest that the huge increase in the dedications during the second-third centuries is not simply a reflection of the epigraphic habit, but rather, that the cult of Hypsistos was swelled by the Gentile god-fearers, as a result of the changes happening within Judaism itself at this time.
'Network Theory and Religious Innovation', in Mediterranean Historical Review, Vol. 22, no. 1, June 2007, pp. 149-162.
PhD in History