Council of Nicaea
Classic 239 :  Voting the Divine: Religious Disputes and Communal Decisionmaking in the Roman Empire
Course Catalog No: 24859
Dwinelle 2303
Susanna Elm and Duncan MacRae

Focusing on a selection of texts and events from the early to the later Roman empire this course will investigate forms of communal decisions on matters “religious.” Taking our cue from contemporary theoretical scholarship on democratic practices, voting, arbitration and so on, we want to investigate the extent to which decisions regarding the divine were in fact communal, how such communal decisions functioned, and what that may tell us about deliberation, competitive argumentation, and modes of acceptance with regard to the divine. It is our aim to see whether communal deliberations, debates and decisions might be a fruitful analytic framework (1.) to think about religion in the Roman empire in ways other than the standard narratives, and (2.) to explore venues for “democratic” behavior in a premodern empire other than the more obvious “political” communities and regimes.

Among the texts we will examine are Republican senatorial debates and decrees (e.g. the resolutions on the rites of Bacchus, the sanctuary at Oropus and Cicero’s house); elections of priests (including Christian clergy) both in Rome and in provincial communities; the processes around imperial decisions on religion such as those by Tiberius regarding the priest of Jupiter (flamen Dialis) and Trajan’s on the Christians; some philosophical dialogues (e.g. excerpts from Cicero’s De natura deorum; Macrobius’ Saturnalia bk 1; Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho); petitions and apologetics (e.g. Josephus’ contra Apionem; Tertullian’s Apology (excerpts)); Theodosius’ edict cunctos populos; and public religious disputations regarding what a “universal” (catholicos) ecclesia should be in the form of an exceptionally well documented legal tribunal (Carthage 411: catholics versus traditionalists).

Requirements include in-class presentations and a final paper.