Department of Classics

Ancient Religions and Cognition

This project, developed by Dr Esther Eidinow at the University of Nottingham and Professor Tom Harrison at Liverpool University, confronts the challenges posed to the study of ancient religions by new cognitive approaches and vice versa.

It aims to develop a network of scholars, including both those engaged in various cognitive disciplines (ie focussing wholly or in part on the mental processes involved in ritual practices and belief) and those who study ancient ritual practices and belief.

Through a series of workshops and related interactions, participants will examine ancient religious belief and practice in light of new cognitive approaches, while exploring the analytical possibilities and limits of cognitive approaches to religion using data drawn from diverse ancient cultures.  

Anyone interested in joining the network, participating in the meetings or contributing to the project in any other way should contact Dr Esther Eidinow or Professor Tom Harrison.

Research Programme

The network's research programme began with two international workshops funded by the British Academy.

These events brought established researchers together with early career academics and postgraduates. Both workshops covered:

  • diverse ancient cultures from the Mediterranean and Near East, including Greece, Rome, and Egypt;
  • modern methodologies and case studies from various fields engaged in cognitive approaches to religion.

The topics of the workshops were chosen to reflect areas of common concern. They were:

  • 'Authority': this examined the ways in which authority may be imposed in ritual beliefs and practice, and by what means it is maintained. How and why do individuals take up particular stances towards belief and ritual practice (e.g., doubt, agnosticism, atheism, extreme positions, marginal positions)?
  • 'Transmission': built on the first workshop to explore how ideas and concepts of religious belief and ritual practice move across time, and/or between generations and over space.
    As well as exploring questions related to these topics across different cultures, the workshops explored new methodologies, for example, how different cognitive approaches might help us better to understand ancient ritual practice and belief, and vice versa?

To ensure the maximum engagement between disciplines, the workshops included a mix of prepared presentations and discussion of cross-cutting themes; participants were consulted in advance on the questions that they wished to pursue; and specific subjects were allocated to some of those participants for presentations at the workshops.



Journal for Cognitive Historiography

The Journal is the first peer-reviewed publication for research concerned with the interactions between history, historiography, and/or archaeology and cognitive theories.

The journal provides a forum for scholars from a range of different disciplines, and draws on diverse approaches to examine how cognitive theorizing may support historical research, and vice versa. Examples of areas of research include the relationship between universalizing theories and specific historical events, the mental worlds and functions of historical agents, and the transmission of ideas and/or practices across time and place.

The editors welcome contributions from all periods and on all topics of historical and archaeological study, as well as those raising diverse methodological or theoretical issues. On the cognitive side, these may include, but are not limited to, those found in the disciplines of cognitive psychology, cognitive anthropology, cognitive sociology and neuroscience, as well as evolutionary theorizing.

Senior Editors
Esther Eidinow, University of Nottingham
Luther H Martin, University of Vermont

Managing Editor
Lee McCorkle, Masaryk University

Editorial Assistant
Justin Lane, University of Oxford

Book Review Editor
Pieter Francois, University of Oxford



Department of Classics

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

Contact details