The study of religion in the societies of the ancient Mediterranean world has a long and distinguished history in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and faculty at the University of Chicago have played a distinctive and prominent role in that history. In several respects this moment is witnessing a renewed efflorescence of work in the field: the study of the religions of Rome itself and of the empire have undergone a renaissance in popularity and revolution in perspective in the last generation; relations between religion and structures of power and authority in ancient societies, not least in the Fertile Crescent, are once again the object of sustained scrutiny; and new imaginative energies are being poured into the study of religion and visual and material culture. In addition, original conceptualizations in all these arenas are emerging in scholarship and are now subject to vigorous debate, not least as the result of precisely that mode of comparison that is perhaps Chicago’s most enduring contribution to the study of religion.
This activity is finding multiple forms of expression in the academy, both inside the United States and in the larger world of scholarship: conferences; collaborative publishing ventures, including new works of reference and several new journals; regional, national and international research projects; and graduate programs have all been developed to channel this energy. Members of the University of Chicago faculty have been extremely active participants in this conversation. The eminent journal History of Religions has for a long time resided in the Divinity School and recently announced an initiative to publish a series of special issues devoted to special areas of interest, that will include ancient religions as well, and just under a decade ago the University launched the Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions, whose ninth volume is now in production. We have also contributed decisive intellectual and organizational energy, as well as financial support, toward establishing fora where this research can be discussed, critiqued, and brought before publics, large and small.