A Million and One Gods

A Million and One Gods

Page duBois
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    A Million and One Gods
    Book Description:

    As A Million and One Gods shows, polytheism is considered a scandalous presence in societies oriented to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim beliefs. Yet it persists, even in the West, perhaps because polytheism corresponds to unconscious needs and deeply held values of tolerance, diversity, and equality that are central to civilized societies.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-36912-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    This passage from the (Hebrew) Bible, translated in the seventeenth century by Protestant Christians, with its reference to the “queen of heaven,” points to one of the paradoxes of contemporary Western societies. Their history, a history of polytheisms, of the ancient Israelites, ancient Greeks and Romans, has been interpreted as a triumphant progress toward monotheism. Yet, like the Judaean women settled in Egypt, who stubbornly cleaved to their goddess, some people still worship a goddess, and othersmanygods, while a persistent and sometimes unconscious prejudice against polytheism denies legitimacy to religious traditions that surround us. Polytheism survives in many...

  4. CHAPTER ONE The Prejudice against Polytheism
    (pp. 16-49)

    “THE MOST IMPORTANT COMPLIMENT that monotheism has ever paid itself is that it is the religion of justice. According to the widely held conviction of the monotheistic religions, morality and law first came into the world with belief in a single god.”¹ Jan Assmann’s words accuse the monotheisms of an enduring view that ethics and the moral life go hand and hand with the assertion of the existence of one true god, and with the rejection of the many. Such ethnocentric arrogance has deep roots. If we recognize the many and various traditions in our heterogeneous societies, both in the...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Greeks, Romans, and Their Many Gods
    (pp. 50-85)

    THE OATH OF the Athenian ephebes, pronounced at the threshold of manhood, at the moment of induction into the citizen military of the ancient Greek city, reveals the extent to which membership in this elite body, the citizenry that was the city, flourished under the watch of the democratic Athenians’ many gods:

    I will not bring dishonour on my sacred arms nor will I abandon my comrade wherever I shall be stationed. I will defend the rights of gods and men and will not leave my country smaller, when I die, but greater and better, so far as I am...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Polytheism of Monotheism
    (pp. 86-128)

    IN EXPERIENCING EVERYDAY LIFE in the U.S. and the U.K., in Europe, in the West, one encounters both the claim that these are “Christian nations,” with their one god, and the quite evident truth that in fact polytheism in these places continues to flourish. And not only in those religious communities, such as those with ties to India, immigrants of recent or long standing, who profess polytheism, but also among people who might consider themselves to belong to the Abrahamic tradition, that is, from the religious groups that trace their descent from the patriarch Abraham of Ur—Jews, Christians, and...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Politics of Polytheism
    (pp. 129-166)

    JACQUES DERRIDA, although caught up in the restricted world of the Abrahamic monotheisms and the contemporary war of brothers among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, pointed to the political dimension of religious affiliations: “Wars or military ‘interventions,’ led by the Judaeo-Christian West in the name of the best causes (of international law, democracy, the sovereignty of peoples, of nations or of states, even of humanitarian imperatives), are they not also, from a certain side, wars of religion?”¹ How has polytheism figured in such conflicts over the centuries?

    There have been many polytheisms, both extinct and flourishing, and they do not, as...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 167-172)

    NEIL GAIMAN, author of the graphic novel seriesSandman, sets his immensely popular novelAmerican Godsin an American continent swarming with gods, those of the indigenous people of the Americas and those brought along with the millions of immigrants. From Russian gods, to Mr. Ibis of Egypt, to Mr. Nancy, the West African god Anansi, to Kali, “with her ink-black skin and her white, sharp teeth,” to Odin, god of the Norse, they all eventually come together in a great show-down with new gods, like the god of technology, a wired-up fat boy with prosthetic electronic devices hanging off...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 175-192)
  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 193-194)
  11. Index
    (pp. 195-199)