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The Lives of Prehistoric Monuments in Iron Age, Roman, and Medieval Europe$
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Marta Díaz-Guardamino, Leonardo García Sanjuán, and David Wheatley

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198724605

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198724605.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 17 October 2021

Before the Standing Stones

Before the Standing Stones

From Land Forms to Religious Attitudes and Monumentality

(p.19) 2 Before the Standing Stones
The Lives of Prehistoric Monuments in Iron Age, Roman, and Medieval Europe

Joyce E. Salisbury

Oxford University Press

Any study of great prehistoric monuments from standing stones to pyramids involves exploring people’s spiritual beliefs. There had to be some strong sense of awe to motivate people to do the kind of extraordinary work to erect such monuments, and in the ancient world, religion served as the greatest motivator. There are many ways to study religion, and each academic discipline uses its own methods, which in turn shape its conclusions. Anthropologists compare different religions to see how different cultures express their beliefs; sociologists look at the functions religions serve to maintain a social cohesiveness. Psychologists of religion might look at the way religious feelings are manifest in individuals, and theologians try to explore deep truths about the nature of God. All these approaches reveal some truths about this complex phenomenon we call religion and the results often seem like those of the proverbial blind men describing parts of an elephant while missing the glory of the whole. I, too, will focus on one small part of the religious experience—the feeling that lies at the heart of those who have felt the spiritual, and while there have been many disciplines that have studied this religious experience, from psychology to philosophy to sociology, my approach is historical. I will try to explore the nature of people’s religious expression over time, as they change and as they stay the same. What is this religious feeling? As we might expect, there are many different interpretations and analyses of the nature of the religious experience. It may mean the capacity of feeling at one with something larger than oneself, which is the definition of ‘mysticism’. It maymean a belief in—a faith in—a supernatural being. For the purposes of this chapter, however, I will simply accept the experience as a capacity humans have to feel awe and reverence (Bellah 2011). This enduring sense of awe—what has been famously called the idea of the holy (Otto 1950)—lies somewhere at the heart of all subsequent religious impulses.

Keywords:   Africa, Balkans, Church, Elijah, Iceland, Jesus, Lourdes, Mediterranean, Toledo

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