The first of three international conferences on religion in the practice of everyday life in Egypt and Syria, 200-700 CE, organised by the Jozef M.A. Janssen Foundation. This first conference will focus on cohabitation and conflict between different religious groups at the local level during the last predominantly pagan century, the third century of the Common Era.
According to the prevailing view, the centuries-long peaceful coexistence of different religious groups finally came to an end in the fourth century of the Common Era. Traditionally, the rise of Christianity is seen as the explanation for the troubled relations between Christians, Jews and followers of polytheistic cults. The underlying idea is that Christianity is fundamentally intolerant because it is monotheistic. There is much to be said against this, both methodologically and historically.
The way religion manifests itself does not depend on whether it is mono- or polytheistic, but on socio-historical factors such as urban or rural environment, local power relations, etc. This means that we need to consider locally determined processes of social and religious interaction that are not necessarily time-bound. Research in the past has tended to focus on the fourth century. The study of religious interaction in the third century has been largely neglected, but is essential to the identification and understanding of any developments in subsequent centuries. The third century saw conflicts between various polytheistic cults and between Christian and Jewish groups, whereas in the fourth and later centuries Christians and non-Christians sometimes lived peacefully together.
The hypothesis that Christianity was essentially intolerant is based primarily on literary texts, which do not necessarily correspond to religious practice or religion as it was lived. Non-literary texts (inscriptions, papyri, etc.) and material remains provide historians with an important counterpoint and can be used to reconstruct 'lived religion' at the local level. The aim of this conference is to reconstruct and explain such a more complex religious dynamic at the local level for the period of the third century.
The conference will focus on case studies from third-century Egypt and Syria, partly because these regions are known for their religious conflicts in the subsequent centuries, and partly because they provide a rich set of case studies for reconstructing the socio-historical context of co-existing religious groups in the third century and later.