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Disbelief in Antiquity: an interdisciplinary conference

22-06-2013 - 25-06-2013

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Al-Jaber auditorium, Corpus Christi College, 22-24 June 2013

Were there ancient versions of atheism? Who were the religious disbelievers in antiquity? What did they question? When and why did ancient religions allow dissent? This conference brings together some of the top names of Egyptology, Classics, Biblical Studies, the Ancient Near East and East Asia to address these questions.


22nd June

12.45 pm arrivals, registration, lunch

2.00 pm Cliff Ando (Chicago) ‘Disbelief and cognate concepts in Roman antiquity’

3.15 pm Teresa Morgan (Oxford) ‘Is divine-human (dis)belief analogous to intra-human (dis)belief?’

4.30 pm Tea and coffee

4.45 pm Xinzhong Yao (King’s London) ‘The tension between belief and disbelief in early Confucianism’

6.00 pm Shorter paper: Nicole Hartmann, 'Dynamics of individual disbelief'

6.15 pm Shorter paper: Suzan Sierksma, ‘Pistis as anti-Epicurean boundary marker in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians’

6.30 pm Opening reception

7.15 Dinner in College


23rd June

9.00 am  István Kristo-Nagy (Exeter) ‘"Do you know, oh you, why God created His creatures?!" Late antique attacks on the monotheists' god.

10.15 am Jan Assmann (Heidelberg) ‘Egyptian disbelief in the promises of eternity’

11.30 am Coffee

11.45 am Marianna Shakhnovich (St Petersburg) ‘The origin and transformation of disbelief in shamanism’

1.00 pm Lunch

2.00 pm Herbert Niehr (Tübingen), ‘Some aspects of 'disbelief' according to the sources from Late Bronze Age Ugarit’

3.15 pm Francesca Stavrakopoulou (Exeter) ‘Let sleeping gods lie: atheism, skepticism and religious reality within and without the Hebrew Bible'

4.30 pm Tea and coffee

5.00 pm Shorter paper: Kelly Shannon, ‘Poppaea and Thrasea Paetus: disbelief and the imperial cult in Tacitus’ Annals’

5.45 pm Shorter paper: Sondeep Patro, ‘Was Buddha atheist?’

6.00 pm Shorter paper: Alexander Meert, ‘The rise and disappearance of radical atheism in late 5th century BC Athens’

7.15 Conference dinner in College


24th June

9.00 am Sarah Hitch and Emily Kearns (Oxford) ‘Atheism as literary criticism: the case of Greek poetry’

10.15 am Jim Porter (Irvine) ‘What's the matter with God? Natural philosophy, materialism, and the sublime in Greece and Rome’

11.30 Coffee

11.45 Tim Whitmarsh (Oxford) ‘Atheism and polytheism’

1.00 Lunch


Online booking: (search for ‘Disbelief’ or follow Conferences and Events > Classics > Classics Events)


We plan to have a number of shorter, TED-style papers (10 minutes + 5 minutes of discussion) at 5.00 on 23rd June). If you have an idea for one of these, please send a short abstract (200 words maximum) to Unfortunately we cannot guarantee financial support for these speakers.

Organisers: Sarah Hitch (, Tim Whitmarsh ( Please contact Sarah if you would like to be considered for a student bursary.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the British Academy.


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