How is Archaeology of Religion Possible?

  • Zorica Kuzmanović Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade
Keywords:
prehistory, religion, ritual, funerary rite, holism, practice

Abstract

The text discusses the epistemological problems and dilemmas of the attempts to study religious life in prehistory by archaeological means. Among numerous difficulties, theoretical as well as practical, hindering these attempts, a general problem is discussed here: is archaeology of religion possible and on what grounds? This dilemma raised a series of discussions over the last decades of the 20th century, primarily among the English-speaking archaeologists. However, in the tradition of regional archaeology of Yugoslavian and post-Yugoslavian lands this discussion has not been initiated, and the religious life of the prehistoric communities has not been the subject of particular research interest. Consequently, the aim of this paper is to bring attention to the possibilities and limitations of research into religion in prehistory, referring to the recent discussions in wider archaeological community. Two questions are discussed: firstly, how religion is conceptualized and defined in prehistoric contexts, and secondly, how it is possible to make inferences on religion on the grounds of material remains, if religion is understood in general sense, as belief in supernatural, non-material principles.  The text concludes by the suggestion that the holistic approach, advocating that the religious phenomena should be regarded in structural relationship to all other aspects of social life, is productive if this proposition is taken to imply the scrutiny of numerous correlations between religion and other social domains. However, it is not acceptable to deny heuristic and analytic value of the very concept of religion. The importance of research into religious rituals is stressed, i.e. religious behaviour and practices, that are accessible through archaeological record, as opposed to religious principles, beliefs and dogmas. The orientation of archaeological research towards the field of ritual practices presupposes the effort to discern the purpose of a ritual and its outcomes, i.e. to consider the structural intertwining of ritual behaviour with all other aspects of social life, in accordance with the holistic approach. 

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Published
2020-11-06
How to Cite
Kuzmanović, Zorica. 2020. “How Is Archaeology of Religion Possible?”. Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 15 (3), 643–661. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.21301/eap.v15i3.1.