Power of the Priests. Political use of religious knowledge
Religion plays a central – if not the central role in nearly every aspect in people’s life of most pre-modern cultures. Already Cicero postulates the political influences of the priest as a general transcultural phenomenon (de divinatione I 43, 95): "But who fails to observe that auspices and all other kinds of divination flourish best in the best regulated states? And what king or people has there ever been who did not employ divination?” A life without gods was not conceivable or sometimes even illegal. What could be more obvious than to use the beliefs of people to achieve political goals? This interference could happen quite directly. For example the German Kings and Emperors of medieval times were elected by the chief ecclesiastical and secular princes of the Holy Roman Empire. The pope did not have any influence over the election, but he was it who crowned the kings in order to be legitimated by God.
A more subtle, but rather common method to use religion for political purposes is the oracle. It was used in many cultures, for instance in Ancient Greece, Egypt, or Near East as well as in pre-modern India, China, Tibet or Europe, however in many different ways. The oracle of Alexander the Great in the Egyptian oasis Siwa is a very well-known example. Normally the result of these oracles corresponded with the wishes of the ruler, so the priests probably had been briefed in advance. The dependency of the rulers on the religious personnel was surely a significant means of pressure for the priests. The so-called synodal decrees of Ptolemaic Egypt illustrate the communication and exchange of interests between ruler and priests. The Hellenistic monarchies demonstrate how the influence of the local priesthood has been a core element for the establishment of the new rulers and their political success. In which different ways the religious personnel used their possibilities to pursue an active policy of their own as an intrinsic part of the political processes.
This conference aims to investigate the function of the religious personnel in political processes and their influence in pre-modern societies from a cross-cultural/transcultural perspective. Specialists from various disciplines should present their research on the basis of case studies to illustrate their results. The studies should discuss the following questions. For which reasons religion had been used for political purposes. Which goals should be achieved? In which way politics and religion had been linked? A focus should be on… read more