Those areas of ancient life recognized as religious coincide often with areas of life where identity was being negotiated, contested, and constructed. In cosmopolitan centers, where people from different regions of the ancient Mediterranean crowded urban neighborhoods and market squares, identity might hinge on variables such as the choice of gods to worship, whether one revered a particular sacred place, the holidays and festivals one chose to celebrate, as well as daily practices governed by divine prescription, such as prayer, eating, and sexual relations. Finally, one often proclaimed one’s identity in death through mortuary inscriptions, decorations on tombs, or in catacomb art; while people might choose to emphasize their social rank or trade on an epitaph, we also frequently find indicators of religious affiliation such as depicting the deceased as a priestess of Ceres or Isis, or the inclusion of symbols such as a menorah or fish. Whether we identify the origin of religion as a discrete category of human existence with the emergence of Christianity, as Daniel Boyarin does, or with the Protestant Reformation as Talal Asad and others have done, or claim that it has always existed as part of human societies, it is clear that beliefs and practices coterminous with what we now call “religion” comprised an important element of ancient identities. “Identity” itself, however, as a unified and stable entity, has been questioned. Freudian analysis first revealed the disturbing presence of multiple levels of consciousness and fragmented selves within the minds of rational self-controlled Europeans, allowing for the emergence of post-modern and deconstructionist theories that underscore the mutability and complexity of modern identities. Post-colonial theory has also contributed to a more nuanced understanding of modern identity by highlighting the complicated and ambivalent relationships that develop in colonial contexts between natives and occupiers, who both resist and imitate each other.
Stratton, K. (2011). Identity. doi:10.1017/CCO9781139047784.015