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How It All Works: Ritual in the Ancient Mediterranean
University of Michigan in Ann Arbor
22-23 May, 2024

From the Conference Organizers:

We write to invite members of the academic community to attend the upcoming conference, How It All Works: Ritual in the Ancient Mediterranean, which will be held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on 22-23 May, 2024. Below, you can find a description of the conference and a tentative schedule of presentations. We request that individuals who are interested in attending to contact the conference organizers, either Justin Barney ( or Celia Schultz (, so that we can ensure that adequate preparations have been made for the event.

Conference Description

Students of Greek and Roman religion have often noted that people in the ancient Mediterranean were more interested in ritual participation (orthopraxy) than theological dogma (orthodoxy). But what can we know about whether and how the ancient Greeks and Romans thought their rituals accomplished anything? How did they think ritual worked? This interdisciplinary conference explores the understudied question of the efficacy of ritual, i.e., how people in the ancient world understood the positive (and sometimes negative) functions of religious practices such as sacrifice, prayer, choral dance, and temple cult. The conference aims to bring together scholars from various disciplines such as religious studies, history, philosophy, and archeology.

Schedule of Presentations

Wednesday, May 22

1:00 - 4:15 Session #1

1:00 - 1:15 Opening Remarks
Celia E. Schultz, University of Michigan

1:15 - 2:00 The Walls Have Eyes: Apotropaism and Iconoclasm in Late Antique Egypt
Alex Bridges, University of Edinburgh

2:00 - 2:45 Understanding Ritual Causality in Mithraic Rituals
Alison Griffith, University of Canterbury

2:45 - 3:00 Coffee Break

3:00 - 3:45 Cognitive Insights into the Trustworthiness of Roman Divination
Rebecca Hachamovitch, University of St Andrews

3:45 - 4:30 Ritual Determinants of Social Status and Social Power in the Roman World
Jacob Mackey, Occidental College

Thursday, May 23

9:00 - 12:15 Session #2 (Moderated by Anna Lännström, Stonehill College)

9:00 - 9:45 Plato’s Debt to Dionysiac Ritual
Lucy Walsh, Trinity College, Dublin

9:45 - 10:30 Can Plato’s Gods be Persuaded?
Justin Barney, Western Michigan University

10:30 - 10:45 Coffee Break

10:45 - 11:30 The Theorization of Animal Sacrifice in Greek Philosophy
James Rives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

11:30 - 12:15 Ritual Error: Causes, Consequences, and Remedies from the Oracular Tablets of Dodona to Lydian Miracle Narratives
Jan-Mathieu Carbon, Queen's University

12:15 - 1:30 Lunch Break

1:30 - 5:00 Session #3

1:30 - 2:15 Did Votive Offerings Stop Working? The End of the “Votive Habit” in Republican Italy
Alexandra Sofroniew, University of California, Davis

2:15 - 3:00 From the ‘periphery of the Classical world’: Pre-Roman Italy between scrupulous rituals and fluid ‘theology’
Massimiliano Di Fazio, Università di Pavia

3:00 - 3:15 Coffee Break

3:15 - 4:00 Roman Prayers, A Mix of Law and Magic? The Cases of Evocatio, Devotio and Defixio
Alain Blomart, Universitat Ramon Llull (Blanquerna -FPCEE), Barcelona

4:00 - 4:45 Roman Oaths Between Theology and Ethics
Duncan MacRae, University of California, Berkeley

4:45-5:00 Concluding remarks
Celia E. Schultz, University of Michigan