The Beginnings of Domestic Religion in Ancient Christianity
Christianity did not evolve from a public cult, rather, it developed in the private context of the family and home. Much interest has been paid to the investigation of the early communities and the development of official Christian worship. Yet, studying domestic and family space being used for daily religiosity and piety was unconsidered for a long time and only became of more interest in recent times. It was precisely the view of daily experiences in religious practice that opened up a completely new perspective regarding Christianity in antiquity. The aim of the project is to study this essential part of Christian cultural life in antiquity. Taking the processes of transformation during the start of Christianity into consideration, the characteristics of „not-public“ and familiar Christianity during the Greek and Roman eras until late antiquity will be investigated. This will be done by examining literary as well as archaeological testimonies using complementary methodologies.
This project is part of a larger research programme that examines literary and material evidence in relation to domestic religion in early Christianity. As a cooperation-project of the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Vienna (Institute for New Testament Studies) and the Institute for the Study of Ancient Culture, the research comprises two thematic sections. While one part studies the basis of literary sources related to researching domestic religious and social conditions, the other part deals with tangible archaeological evidence in Christian households. In the process, numerous finds, artefacts and architectural remains will be analyzed in order to attest Christian religious practice in the home. Starting from domestic pagan cults with their diverse social dimensions, certain questions are of key interest. How did the shape of domestic cult shrines change, once the inhabitants became Christians? How were such installations adapted for new beliefs? Which objects replaced former votives, altars, lararia, or other objects of domestic devotion?
The archaeological evidence from the 3rd to 6th century AD revolves mainly, although not exclusively, around the developments in the eastern Roman Empire. In particular, more recent finds from Ephesus, Hierapolis, Sardis or Sagalassos shed new light on the process of transformation which emerged during the transition from pagan to Christian cult practices in the home and family. At the same time, these finds serve as a starting point for further exploration of domestic religiosity and its various manifestations in late antiquity. Together with the Protestant theology subproject this research strives to better understand the design or redesign of domestic religiosity in Christianity and its impact on social structures and material culture.
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