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“Sensing Divinity?”

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May 1, 2018

Speaker & Affiliation

Esther Eidinow (Visiting Research Scholar, Department of History and the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, University of Bristol)


4:30 pm - 6:00 pm
010 East Pyne


In this paper I explore some aspects of belief in ancient Greek gods. I begin by considering a cognitive perspective on representations of divinity, examining some of the current explanations of anthropomorphism of god concepts, explanations that focus primarily on an individual’s mental activity. I aim to develop these approaches in two related ways. First, I reintroduce the role of the body, through consideration of the importance of the senses in tracing and describing a divine presence. The paper concentrates on the sense of smell, setting narratives about divine smelling (transitive and intransitive) in the context of research on how smell functions for the individual. Second, I argue that it is important to look beyond the individual mind and its representation of the divine, and consider social interactions—specifically here those produced by smells. The paper argues that smell’s powerful connections with emotion, memory and language can help to illuminate ancient Greek belief in the gods as a socially embedded—and embodied—phenomenon.