It is a pleasure to present the two CAMWS First Book awards this year to Dan-El Padilla Peralta (Princeton University) for his book Divine Institutions: Religions and Community in the Middle Roman Republic (Princeton, 2020) and Matthias Gassman (Oxford University) for his book Worshippers of the Gods: Debating Paganism in the Fourth-Century Roman West (Oxford, 2020).
The criteria for this award include excellent quality, wide significance within a scholarly domain, and demonstrated awareness of international trends. We are especially interested in books which shift the conversation substantially in the relevant field of research. Committee members concurred that both of these books significantly altered traditional views of Roman religion, in the Middle Republic and in late antiquity.
Committee members lauded Peralta’s book as “an elegantly-written, deeply researched study of the (primarily) religious forces that combined to produce a consensus among all classes of Roman society during the period of Republican history that has only recently, the author shows, received critical attention in its own right.”Divine Institutions “incorporate[s] an impressively wide variety of evidence, often with brilliance and sophistication.” The book’s mathematical modelling was praised as “potentially trend-setting as a thought-experiment.”
Gassman’s book “stakes out major new ground by persuasively overturning well-established arguments.” Worshippers of the Gods was praised as “a compelling story" of how successive writers, both Christian and "pagan" (a term the book largely deconstructs) dialogically engaged with and reshaped Rome’s religious heritage. The book gives all participants in these ongoing debates equal agency, and innovatively shows how late antique authors, often marginalized in classical studies, rely on earlier Latin literature.