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Acts of Identification and the Politics of the "Greek Past": Religion, Tradition, Self Open Access


Other title
Traditional Villages
Code Switching
Acts of Identification
White Tower
Greek Past
Mystery Cults
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Touna, Vaia
Supervisor and department
Braun, Willi (History and Classics and Religious Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Landy, Francis (Religious Studies)
Haagsma, Margriet (History and Classics)
Goldenberg, Naomi (Classics and Religious Studies)
Muir, Steven (Philosophy and Religious Studies)
Stewart, Selina (History and Classics)
Religious Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This study is about a series of operational acts of identification, such as interpretations, categorizations, representations, classifications, through which past materials have acquired their meaning and therefore identity. Furthermore, this meaning-making will be demonstrated always to be situational and relational in the sense that the meaning of past material is a historical product created by strategic historic agents through their contemporary acts of identification and, as situated historical products, they are always under scrutiny and constant re-fabrication by yet other historical agents who are on the scene with yet other goals. It will also be evident throughout this study that meanings (identities) do not transcend time and space, and neither do they hide deep in the core of material artifacts awaiting to be discovered. The Introduction lays the theoretical and methodological framework of the study, situating its historiographical and sociological interests in the study of identities and the past, arguing for an approach that looks at the processes and techniques by which material and immaterial artifacts acquire their meaning. In Chapter 1 I look at scholarly interpretations as an operational act of identification; by the use of such anachronisms (which are inevitable when we study the past) as the term religion and the idea of the individual self, a certain widely-shared, and thoroughly modern understanding of Euripides’ play Hippolytus was made possible. Chapter 2 is concerned with the process of categorization, as another act of identification, which allows scholars to identify, and thereby describe (or better construct) the ancient Greek world by dividing it between what appeared to be naturally occurring private and public zones, through the use of categories such as “mystery cults,” “voluntary associations,” and “mystery religions.” Although Chapter 3 is mainly on representations, it is evident that interpretations and categorizations are both effectively used in the restoration of a pitted iconography of a small church in Thessaloniki, Greece, which is often explained as an act of iconoclasm. Instead of focusing on the pitted iconography as an instance of iconoclasm, the chapter once again exemplifies the shift of this project by looking at how a new symbol was fabricated by commentators by means of the representation, interpretation and categorization of material from the archive of the fragmented past. In Chapter 4 it is made evident how all of the intersecting processes of the previous chapters are in place in the construction of “traditional villages” in Greece. Although classification has been an important operational act of identification, it would not be enough without the way with which representation, interpretation and categorization have been used by strategic social actors in order to constitute what counts as a “traditional village,” doing so for their own social, economic, and political needs and thus contemporary interests. The Epilogue summarizes and exemplifies the shift of approach that the project is advocating by demonstrating how all of these operational acts, each of which have been identified in the previous chapters, are all working together in the construction of our view of the past and its relation to present interests.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
Citation for previous publication
Vaia Touna, “The Manageable Self in the Early Hellenistic Era,” Bulletin of the Council of Societies for the Study of Religion, Vol. 39, No 2 (2010): 34-37.Vaia Touna, “Distinction, Domination, Privilege and the Role of Code Switching,” in Codes of Conduct: Code Switching and the Everyday Performance of Identity. Edited by Monica Miller and Merinda Simmons. Forthcoming with Equinox Publishers, UK.Vaia Touna, “Re-describing Iconoclasm: Holey Frescoes and Identity Formation,” in Failure and Nerve in the Academic Study of Religion. Edited by William Arnal, Willi Braun, and Russell McCutcheon, 218-227. Sheffield and Bristol: Equinox, 2012.Vaia Touna, “What’s New is Old Again: The Αναπαλαίωση of Tradition,” in Claiming Identity in the Study of Religion: Social and Rhetorical Techniques Examined. Edited by Monica Miller. Forthcoming with Equinox Publishers, UK.

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