Pompeii: Materiality, Sensuality, and Lived Religion (in progress)

This is a Call for Papers issued on behalf of The Baron Thyssen Centre for the Study of Ancient Material Religion at The Open University

This special themed issue of the Open Arts Journal will bring the cults and sacred landscape of ancient Pompeii into a dialogue with new work in the field of material religion, a research area developed primarily within the discipline of Religious Studies, which has important overlaps with lived religion and sensory studies. The project aims to provide a fresh, interdisciplinary account of Pompeian religion which applies - and contributes to - new theories about the relationship between materiality and the sacred. It will focus on individual case-studies from Pompeii, including temple buildings, cult artefacts, and ritual performances; as well as providing a detailed analysis of their chosen case-studies, contributors will be invited to consider two broader questions. What can the theories and approaches of material religion add to existing understandings of Pompeii? What can studies of Pompeii, in turn, bring to the ‘table’ of material religion?


In the introduction to his Key Terms in Material Religion (2015, Bloomsbury), S. Brent Plate offers the following working definition: “material religion refers to (1) an investigation of the interactions between human bodies and physical objects, both natural and human-made; (2) with much of the interaction taking place through sense perception; (3) in special and specified places and times; (4) in order to orient, and sometimes disorient, communities and individuals; (5) toward the formal strictures and structures of religious traditions.” Ancient Pompeii can be made to speak powerfully to every element of this working definition. Our archaeological evidence includes thousands of ‘things’ that modern people would recognise as related to the ‘sacred’, and many others that could be profitably studied from the perspective of implicit religion. We have cult statues and figurines, wall-paintings decorated with images of priests and deities, graffiti related to cults and rituals, votive offerings, altars, structures associated with temples and sanctuaries, jewellery inlaid with images of gods, and painted shrines from streets and houses. This evidence has been studied relentlessly ever since its discovery, and has generated a huge bibliography across multiple languages. However, traditional archaeological and historical approaches have tended to study these religious buildings, images and artefacts in isolation from the human bodies that built, perceived, and used them - as well as from the changing natural and human-made elements of the surrounding landscape. In turn, there has often been a too-stark boundary drawn between the manifestly ‘religious’ elements of Pompeian life, and those which might be (ahistorically) considered as more ‘secular’.

This themed issue aims to reintegrate the surviving material evidence from Pompeii within the diverse range of lived, multi-sensory contexts in which it was produced and encountered, and to bring a collection of discrete case-studies to bear on current debates about how religion is produced and experienced in and through the material world. We welcome proposals from researchers working in and between a wide range of disciplines, including classics, archaeology, religious studies, reception studies, digital humanities, and art history. Articles should be between 6,000 and 8,000 words in length. Proposals should be sent to Jessica Hughes (jessica.hughes@open.ac.uk) by 28th February 2019. All proposals will be considered by a panel, and decisions will be communicated within one month of the deadline. Final versions of articles will be collected by 31st December 2019; we also plan to arrange a seminar on Pompeian material religion in early autumn 2019, to which all contributors will be warmly invited.