Department of Classics

Cognitive Approaches to Ancient Religious Experience (CAARE)

Religious experience is widely regarded as difficult to access, describe and verify, let alone analyse and understand, in particular for historical subjects. The project will build on, and help to develop, recent research in Ancient History that asks how we can investigate the nature of ancient religious experience.

It will use new cognitive methodologies, treating cognition as embodied and distributed, with the view that humans are embodied agents, as well as mental creatures, who are integrated in society. By bringing cognitive and ancient disciplines together, this project aims both to enhance approaches to key historical evidence and research methodologies, and also to expand understanding of cognition as consisting of individuals in full interaction with culture.

The project

Workshop 3: 8-9 December 2016, Senate House, London

This final conference continues the development of this research, presenting a number of working papers by scholars involved in the project. Panel topics include: Divination, Material Evidence, Music, Ritual, Sensing Gods, Text, and Rhetoric.

Visit the conference webpage for full details

Previous workshops 

Workshop 1: Identifying symptoms of religious experience in ancient sources

9-10 July 2015, Senate House, London

The first meeting of the project was designed to provide participants with an initial body of ancient evidence. Themes were selected that reflected different contexts - moving from external physical spaces to internal phenomena.

Those giving papers were asked to think about a theme and present key sources that, in their opinion, offered evidence for a particular ‘symptom’ of religious experience in that context. Discussions focused as far as possible on drawing out details of both the nature of the symptom (physical and mental) and its context.

Day one

Papers were given on:

  • Space by Katharina Lorenz (Nottingham)
  • Barriers by Michael Scott (Warwick)
  • Performance by Felix Budelmann (Oxford)
  • Structures by Luther Martin (Vermont)

Day two

Papers were given on:

  • Ritual by Robert Parker (Oxford)
  • Sacrifice by Hugh Bowden (Kings, London)
  • Doctrine by Bella Sandwell (Bristol)
  • Mystical Experience by Anders Klostergaard Petersen (Aarhus)
  • Ecstasy by Yulia Ustinova (Ben Gurion, Israel)
  • Epiphany by Ralph Andersen (St Andrews)

Workshop 2: How can cognitive research help us to understand ancient 'religious experience'?

March 2016, Aarhus, Denmark

Bringing together people from ancient history and cognitive research backgrounds themes from the first workshop were developed further.

Videos of all the presentations given at the workshop are available on the Aarhus University website

Video overview of workshop 2 and what people gained from it


Project team

  • Primary Investigator:
    Dr Esther Eidinow (Nottingham)
  • Co-Investigator:
    Professor Armin W Geertz (Aarhus)
  • Advisory group:
    Professor Thomas Harrison (Liverpool)
    Professor Luther Martin (Vermont)
    Professor John North (UCL)

A research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).


Department of Classics

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

Contact details