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Rethinking Greek Religion, by Julia Kindt

Reviewed by Jorge J. Bravo III

Something is rotten in the study of Greek religion, or so the author aims to demonstrate in the present book, comprising six chapters bracketed by a short introduction and conclusion. As she states in her introduction, Kindt finds that the field has been dominated too much by polis religion, the scholarly model that regards ancient Greek religion as embedded in the polis and its institutions. Finding this model too restrictive, she accordingly proposes to explore various aspects of religion that go “beyond the polis” (6) as a way of proving that a more expansive and complex approach to Greek religion is necessary.

In the first chapter Kindt continues to expound her critique of polis religion, which she regards as the dominant paradigm today, most directly associated with Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, but also underpinning the work of many other prominent scholars. While she acknowledges certain strengths of the model, such as its recognition of the importance of the polis as a structuring principle in Greek religion, she nevertheless contends that it entails many problems. Its focus on agency, practice, and the influence of the polis upon the shape of religious experience, for instance, comes at the expense of considerations of personal religion and belief (which can be independent of and may even at times be at odds with the polis) as well as the symbolic nature of shared religious experience. She also feels that the model gives preferential treatment to religious phenomena of the Archaic and Classical periods.

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