Mythology in Bits

Tim Whitmarsh

  • The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion edited by Esther Eidinow and Julia Kindt
    Oxford, 736 pp, £30.00, December 2017, ISBN 978 0 19 881017 9

These days, thanks to Google Books, it is possible to find out when people started paying attention to ‘Greek religion’. The phrase first appeared in print in English in 1654; it became more common in the middle of the 18th century, and reached a peak of popularity in the 19th. This is of course a crude index (and the picture is subtly different in other European languages), but it’s a reminder that, whatever its deeper roots, religion as a concept is largely an Enlightenment invention. Some have argued that for this reason it should not be used in connection with ancient or non-Western peoples, particularly since the European Enlightenment is heuristically inseparable from European colonialism. Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion (2013), in particular, argued that the mapping out of the religions of the world went hand in hand with imperial conquest.

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