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Early Christianity as popular religiosity in the Mediterranean


The history of the Roman Empire presents a fundamental difficulty to the researcher. Most its available sources are restricted to no more than 1% of the population: The Roman elite. That is the reason why themes from these sources and from this social stratum prevail in the scholarship. In this sense, the life of the other 99% is considered from the perspective of the elites, when not neglected at all. Nevertheless, since the contributions of the École des Annale, among others, there has been a change in the approach: the private life, the cultural history, the everyday life and the sensibilities of the common people turned out to be subjects of research. Christianity has originated from the lower classes in the Roman Empire, first among peasants of the province of Judea, then among ordinary people from the cities in the Mediterranean. They presented themselves as a religion for the poor, reflecting in their identity their place in the Empire's social stratification. Nevertheless, the specific culture of that population - and its relationship with the constitution of the religious movement - has not yet received enough scholarly attention. There is, of course, a treatment of this group given by scholars that considers its social context, its criticism against the Roman ideology or its tendencies to adjusting to the elite ideals. However, the specific sensibilities, forms of perception and cultural categories of the Christians as a low-class group are not properly considered. The perspective adopted here allies itself to recent efforts in the historiography in the research of the popular culture in the Roman Empire. This project proposes the discussion and analysis of the Early Christianity as a form of low-class religiosity in the Roman Empire, having as a starting point a set of hypotheses about what constitutes the popular culture concerning religious practices in the ancient world.To carry out this project we propose a hypothetical, working definition of popular culture in the religious context of the ancient world:Set of religious practices and representations of common, non-elite, men and women, by means of which they manage social tensions (rivalries, violence, social asymmetry etc.) and resources shortage for their survival. The texts, rituals, gestures etc. they create are concrete, they aim practical functions, and, at the same time, they are structurally complex, in other words, endowed with poetic power and polysemy. These practices and representations come from the material world of these people (even if only metaphorically), nevertheless they can proceed to adaptations of elite genre and themes from their own perspective. In the case of the adaptations, prevails the active reception of the texts, as imitations, or in inversions, by means of parodies, satires and others. This project will approach the popular culture in three ways: a) the magical practices, recognized as the popular form of religiosity, which is spread all over in Early Christianity; b) accounts about domestic conflicts, in which relationships and tensions among people from different social groups are expressed; and c) adaptations from narrative cores from the folklore, fables and exempla (chreiai), with their adaptations of narrative themes and moral models. (AU)

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