This project has investigated forms of authority and the authorization of knowledge from a perspective informed by modern sociological theory.


In the ancient world, multiple forms of authority construction in the spheres of religion and science(s) were associated with the assertion of knowledge claims in certain social spaces. This sociological perspective of historically oriented authority research is usually contrasted to other strands of research which understand authority as deeply embedded in specifically modern discourses. By integrating both strands of authority research, this project aimed at relating modern analytical concepts of “authority” and “authorization,” shaped as they are by history and being rooted with the Roman term auctoritas, to ancient forms of the construction of authority. It examined how modern concepts, particularly those used by sociologists, can shed light on authority relations in the ancient world, while at the same time assessing the extent to which it is possible for these to adequately capture or describe the ways in which authority was constructed.

The project took shape in 2015 and was built on discussions that took place at a workshop of research group (B-5) Authority in Ancient Religions and Sciences (2014) and in the seminar “Master-Disciple,” held by Almut-Barbara Renger and Tudor Sala (Summer semester 2015). Bringing together perspectives from Ancient Mediterranean as well as Religious Studies, Historical Anthropology and Sociology of Knowledge, the research focused on the question how previous depictions of ancient authority relationships drew on concepts derived from social history and sociology. Based on these findings, a theoretical framework for the investigation of the interdependencies of authority, knowledge, and space was discussed. Particular attention was paid to interdisciplinary exchange regarding methods and methodologies in the field of authority research.


In order to broaden the project’s view on the topic, contact was established with various scholars working on authority. Within Topoi, the workshop entitled, “Personal Authority – Personally” (2017) was organized by the research projects (B-5-8) and (B-5-1) The personal authorization of knowledge in cooperation with other PhD students of research group (B-5) Personal Authorization of Knowledge. This workshop sought to stimulate discussion on current research and provide impetus for the final stages of the students’ dissertations. In the spirit of research-related teaching, Jan Ole Bangen taught a seminar on understandings and concepts of authority within cultural and social studies (Winter semester 2016/17).

Furthermore, several publications presented the group’s findings to a broader scientific audience. Particularly noteworthy are the cooperative publications on embodied knowledge edited by Almut-Barbara Renger and Christoph Wulf and with contributions by Hubert Knoblauch and Jan Ole Bangen (2016) as well as the publication on tacit knowledge edited by Christoph Wulf with a contribution by Hubert Knoblauch (2017). The final publication of note is Almut-Barbara Renger’s entry on “Authority” to Brill’s Vocabulary for the Study of Religion (2015).

Related Publications (Selection)

Christoph Wulf, Anja Kraus, Jürgen Budde and Maud Hietzge (Eds.), Handbuch Schweigendes Wissen. Erziehung, Bildung, Sozialisation und Lernen, Weinheim: Beltz Juventa, 2017

Almut-Barbara Renger, Christoph Wulf, Jan Ole Bangen and Henriette Hanky, “Körperwissen. Transfer und Innovation”, in: Körperwissen. Transfer und Innovation, Paragrana. Internationale Zeitschrift für Historische Anthropologie, 25,1 (2016), 13–19

Markus Asper, Almut-Barbara Renger, Tudor Sala, Markus Witte, Philipp Pilhofer, Sarah Walter and Nalini Kirk, “Representing Authority in Ancient Knowledge Texts”, in: Space and Knowledge. Topoi Research Group Articles, eTopoi. Journal for Ancient Studies, Special Volume 6 (2016), 389–417

Almut-Barbara Renger, “Authority”, in: Robert Segal and Kocku von Stuckrad (Eds.), Vocabulary for the Study of Religion. Vol. 1: A–E, Leiden: Brill, 2015, 145–152