Religious Pluralism

Jörg Rüpke

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211524
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

Religious Pluralism

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  • Classical Studies
  • Religion in the Ancient World
  • Classical History



Conceptualising the religious history of Rome and the Roman Empire seems to be easy. Looking back to that period, we usually differentiate Christianity, Judaism, and the rest. We are used to differentiating different ‘religions’, even if it is difficult to provide a precise term for those we mean to refer to by ‘the rest’. The term ‘polytheism’ is frequently used, but it reflects the perspective of people who regard themselves as monotheists, starting from the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo. The discipline of Religious Studies has developed a terminology of ‘cults’ and ‘denominations’, but the terminological choice itself implies normative statements of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. This article deals with the main lines of thought that determined political and juridical and religious action on a larger scale, focusing on Cicero, religio in texts of the third and fourth centuries CE, how to express a plurality of religious groups, and proliferation and control of religious plurality.

Keywords: Rome; religious history; Roman Empire; religions; religious plurality; polytheism; cults; denominations; Cicero; religious groups

Article.  8721 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Religion in the Ancient World ; Classical History

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