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Democracy and Imperialism Discussion Forum 2013-4

Democracy and Imperialism Discussion Forum 2013-4 Discussion of Term 1 Lecture 7: Religion and Democracy: Key Questions

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  1. •Was Athenian democracy – in the way that it related to and made use of religion – any different to any other Greek polis? •On the whole, were Athenian religious festivals essentially democratic? •To what extent would Athenian democracy not have functioned without religion?
  2. *On the whole, were Athenian religious festivals essentially democratic? * Religious festivals, like many other aspects of Athenian democracy, were not entirely democratic. The Panathenaia festival asserted the hierarchical structure of the polis by having most of the social groups within the city represented in the procession with the exception of the Thetes. In addition the distribution of the sacrificial meat was clearly done in order of rank with the magistrates and important generals served before the general populace. Therefore despite the fact that the festival was a chance for everyone to celebrate religion, there were still rigid boundaries between different social and political groups. * * *To what extent would Athenian democracy not have functioned without religion?* In a sense, Athenian democracy did function without religion, because from a contemporary perspective there was no religion, it was just a part of their way of live that was already intertwined with matters of state. There could be another fair system of governing Athens that was focused around the demos. However religious practices were the principal things binding the demos together. The religious ritual to enter the deme, the swearing of oaths by jurors and overall sanctification were integral to the creating of a community and allowing the demos to be united. However Athenian democracy still could have existed but it would not have functioned as efficiently without these rituals and traditions to unite people.
  3. On the whole, were Athenian religious festivals essentially democratic? The problem with a question such as this is that essentially it has an a posteriori bias. We are quite well informed of the democratic structures of Athens, as handed down to us in an extensive manuscript tradition from various authors, and therefore it is tempting to see everything Athens does as an expression of these institutions. If say, we suppose that Athens never became a democracy but these communal continued regardless, would we still believe that the Panathenaic Festival (et. al.) was ‘essentially democratic’? Many other poleis had communal practices with regards to religion, of the most notable are Sparta and Crete yet they will never adopt the mantle of ‘demokratia’.
  4. •On the whole, were Athenian religious festivals essentially democratic? It depends on which way you take the word democratic. In the modern sense, The festivals included participation of women, which would make it far more of a democratic event than for example the theatres (although there are still debates over whether women were allowed to attend). It also allowed minimal participation from non-citizens, such as metics (ex slaves and foreigners) in the panathenaic procession. Metic women, only a level above slaves in the social hierarchy, could accompany citizen women or carry jugs and trays. There was a limit to how acceptable it was to acknowledge this participation however, as the Parthenon frieze, if one assumes it depicts the panathenaic procession, replaces metic women with men. So in the modern sense, Athenian religious festivals could be democratic in how they caused a larger participation from the population. However, from an Athenian perspective of democracy, festivals were equally democratic, as democracy only implicated citizens, and of course all citizens were allowed to attend. However, as Shani mentioned, there was still the problem of hierarchy, as the food was distributed to the most important members first, then to the thetes last. So, Athenian religious festivals were democratic, but there was a limit to how far it was acceptable to go towards equality.
  5. #2 - It is hard to call Athenian religion democratic in *essence*. As has been pointed out, festivals like the Panatheneia and City Dionysia were established by the Peisistratids and could be used to reinforce class distinctions. However, under the democracy, I believe these festivals came to have a greater democratic siginificance, and were seen as a unifying assertion of Athenian culture. One only has to look at the shared graves of the Athenian war dead - and little is more religious in Ancient Greece than the laws around burial - to see how this became manifest. #3 - Athens' religion was probably more a part of her culture than democracy was. Certainly if the democracy had tried - either as a result of "constitutional reform" or because of a motion by a democratic leader - to separate religious and state matters, those suggesting such a move would have faced a huge backlash from a people to whom state cult and public festival were the essence of religious behaviour, rather than personal beliefs or actions.
  6. 2. On the whole, were Athenian religious festivals essentially democratic? Whilst on the surface Athenian religious festivals such as the Panathenaia may appear democratic, for it included all citizens, as well as sacrificed meat being distributed to all citizens at the Lesser Panathenaia; I would argue that they were not essentially democratic. This is because it is hard to see such an event as democratic when it was started by the tyrant Peisistratos. In addition to this, women were included in the festivals whilst they were definitely discluded from any of the workings of Athenian democracy. In fact, the only institution which women were involved in was that of religion, perhaps indicating that the Panathenaia and other festivals were religious in nature. IG 112 334 also states that despite sacrificed meat being distributed at the Lesser Panathenaia, this was not equal, and there was a definite hierarchy involved. Yet, some scholars have argued that it is the Parathenaia which is depicted in the Parthenon frieze, a building which is often interpreted as being essentially democratic. So, perhaps whilst the festivals themselves were not essentially democratic, it appears as though the Athenians adopted them as part of their democracy.
  7. •To what extent would Athenian democracy not have functioned without religion? Athenian democracy utilised religion in a way that benefitted their political system such as in the case of the Great Dionysia, which although it began under Peisistratus and therefore was not build upon a democratic basis, was adapted to promote democracy. Even democratic institutions such as the deme had a religious ceremony to initiate people and so nobody could be a part of Athenian democracy without being involved in religion. However, this was the way the Athenians designed the system so it may actually have been able to function without religion but they chose to link the two together.
  8. •On the whole, were Athenian religious festivals essentially democratic? Athenian religious festivals were not innately democratic as the Great Dionysia was begun under Peisistratus and therefore began before democracy came to be. However, elements of the Athenian religious festivals were definitely democratic; everyone was included in the Great Dionysia, supposedly even prisoners were let out of jail and all businesses in Athens were shut down. This highlights the inclusive nature of these religious festivals which would be very important looking at the crucial nature of these festivals. Nevertheless, there was also a sense of hierarchy in different religious festivals. In the Panathenaia festival, meat was distributed in a strict order which therefore shows that they were not completely democratic. Overall, I would say that they were essentially democratic but that they incorporated other features which made them less so.
  9. 2. I think it is impossible to say that Athenian religious festivals were essentially democratic, because the vast majority of them were instituted before democracy had emerged, and the ones most associated with Athens as a polis (the Panatheneia and the Great Dionysia) were in fact founded under a tyranny, which suggests that they cannot be/essentially/ democratic as they can exist outside of a democratic context but arguably were appropriated by the democratic system. 3. I think this question might be somewhat impossible to answer as religion appears to have been infused into Athenian society, as they had no word for religion, let alone a concept of separation of Church and state - asking whether any ancient Greek system have functioned without religion is like asking whether they could function with their customs and laws, as our closest translation for religion is usually said to be "nomos". However in terms of the more embodied forms of religion, such as the festivals like the Panatheneia and buildings like the Parthenon, I believe they were used to represent Athens together into a unified state and that made them very important and significant, although I'm not sure how well democracy would do without them.
  10. •Was Athenian democracy – in the way that it related to and made use of religion – any different to any other Greek polis? Depending on the period we are discussing, the key difference I would guess was that many of the other Greek poleis did not have democracy. However, if we compare Athenian democracy to an oligarchy or monarchy, there are still similarities in the use of religion to legitimise decisions. For example, the story of the sealed pots taken to the oracle so that there can be no outside interference demonstrates the use of gods to decide on how the best way for the demos to act was, despite their enhanced role in politics. This was concerning a matter of piety, so it is evident that pious behaviour was still very much a key issue in Athens at the time, despite a new level of rational thinking being introduced, but effectively, appeasing the gods was a behaviour that was commonly shared among the Greek poleis. •On the whole, were Athenian religious festivals essentially democratic? In a modern sense, they certainly appear to be, as not only are citizens involved, but also women, which is a far more contemporary perspective of democracy. However, if we are to accept that it was possible that they were introduced pre-democracy, then they should not be seen as synonymous. They are events for the demos to enjoy, and obviously held deep religious signficance, but are possibly not a product of democracy, so it is difficult to judge them as such, especially when using an Ancient definition of the term.
  11. •On the whole, were Athenian religious festivals essentially democratic? (CHALLENGE ACCEPTED BRAD!) I disagree with most people here and I think that Athenian religious festivals were esentially democratic in the ancient meaning of this word. We have to realise that Athenian democracy did not abolish social hierarchy at any point. It changed it, but the society remained hierarchical in nature. Thus claiming that festivals were not democratic because they reinforced social hierarchy is not vaild. If anything, I would say the fesitals were too democratic for Athenian standards by the inclusion of women and metics, rather than not democratic enough. •To what extent would Athenian democracy not have functioned without religion? Democracy used religion as a means to validate its institutions and activities. If the state, being essentially democratic, was completely tied with religion, you could say that democracy as a system was not able to function without religion. Without religion there would be no legitamate way to introduce people to the essential structures of democracy like a deme. Religion was at least very useful if not crucial for the functioning of Athenian democracy.
  12. On the whole, were Athenian religious festivals essentially democratic? I think not because I think religion would have functioned the same no matter which political system they were under. Religion was intertwined with affairs of state, and the festivals, processions, contests etc were in more of a political nature. I think religion always had a large participatory aspect. When they were under the dominion of the Hellenistic kings, maybe their festivals were slightly directed towards giving the ruler divine favours, but the participation of the average person in religion didn't change. As religion was not based off a personal connection with a god, but rather more was just focused on showing your piety publically, not privately, it was a civic duty to engage with state religion, not a demcoratic duty. The hierarchy of meat given out shows that recognising your place in society was a key element of the procession, and this public enforcing of social hierarchy is not democratic. To what extent would Athenian democracy not have functioned without religion? I think democracy would have functioned just the same as an aritocracy without religion. Religion was fundamental to the state, it enhanced polis unity, Greek identity, allowed an inversion of social norms at certain festivals, allowed one to share in something greater than any individual and such. It was one of the cogs in keeping the state going, but it was not specific to democracy. I think under a king religion was still just as importangt to keep the state functioning and the people happy. The one way I do think it could have made democracy less functional is the public expectation to engage. I would image the expectation to engage in religion was even more pronounced than the expectation to engage in politics; if one is obliged to engage with public religion, which is often in political circumstances anyway, then I think this would carry over to democratic engagement. Religion made you interact with public life, rather than just private interests, and so this public religion probably helped shape the mind for the same publically orientated democratic engagement.
  13. On the whole, were Athenian religious festivals essentially democratic? I would say that Athenian religious festivals were not democratic. Religious festivals were in fact more inclusive than the democracy in Ancient Athens allowing participation from both women and metics. The inclusion of these social groups show that religious festivals were entirely religious in nature rather than democratic. Moreover the religious festivals predated democracy in Athens beginning under Peisistratus, a tyrant. Also meat distrubuted at the Panathenaia was handed out in an order showing that there was indeed a hierarchy within religious festivals.
  14. 2. It is hard to argue that the religious festivals of Athens were essentially democratic beacuse, as has already been mentioned, the festivals were already in existence before we see the Athenian democratic system having been fully established. However, it does seem that these festivals, which were already part of Athenian life, were used to reinforce the ideology of the democracy. They demonstrated to all citizens, and even those not included within the citizenship, through this shared experience the benefits the institutions of democracy had for them. However, there is evidence showing the hierarchical nature of the festivals such as the distribution of sacrificial meat in order of different social stratas. I would argue that the festivals, rather than being fundamentally democratic, were used more and more as democracy became more prevalent to propegate its idea and practice within Athens rather than it functioning in a strictly democratic manner.
  15. Athenian religious festivals were not essentially democratic as the panatheneia consisted of a socail hierarchy in terms of how the sacrificial meat was distributed. Although the festival did include the entire population, even women, so it could be argued that the panatheneia was essentially democratic. I agree with Simon in that religion was not essential to the function of Athenian democracy. Religion was certainly a big aspect of everyday Athenian life but it wasnt essential to democracy. Democracy in Athens did not emerge out of religion, it emerged out of political reforms driven by a view for social change.

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