12967 - Religions of the Classical World (1)

Academic Year 2023/2024

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will have a general knowledge of religious-history research methods, religious history in the classical world, sources and issues connected with studying the religions of the classical world. They will understand and use the correct language and research tools of their subject, know the rudiments of polytheism and classical religions, be familiar with the kind of sources and use them correctly for religious-history research. They will be able to describe and illustrate the various aspects of encounters between religion and culture (links, hybridization, conflict) using specific instances and understanding the multicultural contexts. They will be able to discuss the main topics of the discipline competently and have learnt to listen, understand and debate respectfully with different cultures and viewpoints, spotting the tie-ups among different disciplines.

Course contents

Religion as a communication system: the central action of religious doing and the semantics of violence.

Definition of the concept of religion among History of Religions, Religious Studies and Religious Science. Critical elaboration of the object of religious-historical inquiry: taxonomies and classifications, methods and tools, operational concepts, referent fields, historical dynamisms, cultural implications, social repercussions.

The course is divided into two modules or teaching units.

The first module, taught in the 3rd teaching period, is introductory in nature and focuses primarily on the framing of themes, concepts and perspectives in the study of the "religion" system in general and the religious systems of classical antiquity in particular.

The second module, taught in the 4th teaching period, is monographic in nature and focuses on the treatment of a specific historical-religious theme or topic.

* WARNING: System limitations force information about the "main" teaching to be included on this page.
15951 - RELIGIONS OF THE CLASSICAL WORLD (Module 2) - 6 cfu
And those related to the teaching "borrowed" from it

Students carrying only the 6 cfu course should refer compulsorily to the teaching unit of MODULE 1 given in Semester II, 3rd teaching period

* When using this page, the student should pay special attention to the reconstruction of the content related to the teaching they have chosen

MODULE 1: GENERAL PART (3rd teaching period)
From the definition of the field of inquiry to the functional structuring of ancient polytheisms from a comparative perspective.

Module 1 of the course is divided into two parts: in the first part, starting from the definition of the concept of religion(s) in the field of comparative-historical studies, the theoretical and methodological paths that conditioned the genesis and contributed to the development of an autonomous discipline in its cultural specificities and historical articulations will be outlined. In the second part, starting from the definition of polytheism, the specificity of ancient Mediterranean religious systems characterized by a pluralistic approach to the idea of the divine will be treated, with their specific strategies of differential comparison and cultural translatability.

1. Introductory lecture (2 hours)
2. Religion/religions: heuristic paths and hermeneutic perspectives (6 hours)
3. Tools and methods of historical religious research (6 hours)
4. The definition of polytheism: themes, concepts, perspectives (6 hours)
5. Functional articulation of ancient polytheisms: the Greek and Roman pantheons in comparative perspective (6 hours)
6. Religious pluralism: the lesson of the ancients (4 hours)


MODULE 2: MONOGRAPHIC PART (4th teaching period)
The central action of religious making and the semantics of violence.

Starting from the definition of sacrifice as a culturally oriented form of representation and an effective symbolic device from an anthropopoeic perspective, that is, in the context of targeted strategies of identity (self-)definition of the social self, Module 2 proposes an analysis of ritual putting to death from an epistemological and pragmatic perspective by understanding sacrifice as a foundational act and ritual action necessary to activate the channel of communication between the human and superhuman planes. The various theories on sacrifice that have animated the historical-religious debate since the second half of the last century will be considered, taking into account the different logics underlying sacrificial action in the different cultures of the ancient Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, the East) until the affirmation of the new mental framework represented by the imposition of the Judeo-Christian religious culture.

1. Between sacred and profane: the ancient logic of sacrificium/ sacrilegium (6 hours)
2. Sacrifice and society in the ancient world: models of analysis and research perspectives (6 hours)
3. Sacrifice and society in the ancient world: the Greek, biblical and Vedic case (6 hours)
4. Religious mutations of late antiquity: the "Mosaic distinction" and the end of sacrifices (6 hours)
5. Reception of a violent narrative between Judaism and early Christianity (6 hrs.)

MODULE 1: first lecture January 30, 2024; last lecture March 07, 2024
MODULE 2: first lecture March 20, 2024; last lecture May 02, 2024



Main Texts (Compulsory)

  • PHILIPPE BORGEAUD, FRANCESCA PRESCENDI, Religioni antiche: un'introduzione comparata, edizione italiana a cura di Daniela Bonanno e Gabriella Pironti, Carocci, Roma 2011.

  • MAURIZIO BETTINI, Elogio del politeismo: quello che possiamo imparare oggi dalle religioni antiche, Il Mulino, Bologna 2014.

Further Readings (Recommended/Optional)

  • ILEANA CHIRASSI COLOMBO, Sacer, sacrum, sanctus, religiosus. Valutazioni e contraddizioni storico-semantiche, in Sacrum facere, Atti del I Seminario di Archeologia del Sacro (Trieste, 17-18 febbraio 2012), a cura di Federica Fontana, Edizioni Università di Trieste 2013, pp. 11-21.

  • UGO BIANCHI, Problemi di storia delle religioni, Edizioni Studium, Roma 1993 [1958]
  • JONATHAN ZITTEL SMITH, Religion, Religions, Religious, in Mark C. Taylor (ed.), Critical Terms for Religious Studies, The Chicago University Press, Chicago & London 1998, Chapter Fifteen, pp. 269-284.

* All non-attending students are required to study also the texts reported in the Further Readings' section



Main Texts (Compulsory)

  • RENE GIRARD, Il sacrificio, Raffaello Cortina Editore, Milano 2004.

  • GUY GEDALIAHU STROUMSA, La fine del sacrificio: le mutazioni religiose della tarda antichità, Einaudi, Torino 2006.


Further Reading (Recommended/Optional)

  • LAURA CARNEVALE, Obbedienza di Abramo e sacrificio di Isacco. La ricezione di un racconto violento tra giudaismo e cristianesimo antico, Il Pozzo di Giacobbe, Trapani 2020.

* All non-attending students are required to study also texts reported in the Further Readings' section

Teaching methods

The course is divided into a series of lectures on framing and analysis of the topics reported in Course contents Section, supported by Power Point presentations and moments of collective discussion and in-depth analysis.

Lessons are held exclusively in presence and are not registered.

Assessment methods

Students who attend at least 75% of the lessons are considered to be attending.

The course includes a final oral examination in which students must demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of the reported bibliography, reasoning skills and critical analysis of the material studied, aptitude for processing and / or identification of conceptual links and intertextual links, language skills.

The following assessment levels will be taken into account for the awarding of the final grade:

  • a judgment of excellence (30 cum laude) will be formulated if the student demonstrates that he possesses solid, critically acquired and solidly reasoned knowledge, wealth of discursive articulation and expressive properties;
  • the judgment will be excellent (30) if the student proves to possess complete and adequate knowledge, well articulated and expressed correctly;
  • the judgment will be good (29-27) if the student proves to possess more than satisfactory knowledge, expressed correctly;
  • the judgment will be discreet (26-24) if the student proves to possess the basic knowledge in the essential lines, but not completely exhaustive and / or not articulated with due correctness;
  • the judgment will be sufficient (23-21) where the student proves to possess general knowledge but acquired in a superficial way, expressed in a not always appropriate way and articulated in a confused way;
  • the judgment will be just enough (20-18) where the acquired knowledge is expressed and articulated in a confused, inorganic and / or incomplete way;
  • the judgment will be below the sufficiency (<18) where the knowledge should be absent or extremely incomplete and the student should show lack of orientation in the discipline.

Teaching tools

Power Point presentations and PDF files of the texts quoted in the Readings/Bibliography Section will be made available to students among the on-line teaching materials.

Office hours

See the website of Giuseppina Paola Viscardi


Quality education

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.