Classical Religions and Modern Wellbeing

What resources could a multidisciplinary dialogue about ancient Greek and Roman religions discover for understanding, caring for, and cultivating forms of mental and spiritual wellbeing today? How could this same dialogue generate new perspectives on Greek and Roman religions?

What did the project involve? 

The aims of this project were to forge new relationships among modern pagan practitioners, mental health practitioners, and academics, and to brainstorm about relationships between ‘paganism’ and mental wellbeing. These aims were achieved through the following activities:

  1. A half-day launch workshop at the University of Bristol, which brought together several dozen academics, mental health professionals, and modern pagan practitioners. Among the academics were Kurt Lampe (UoB, Classics), Vanda Zajko (UoB, Classics), Richard Seaford (Exeter, Classics), Angela Voss (Canterbury Christchurch, Cosmology and the Sacred), and Georgia Petridou (Liverpool, Classics). The mental health professionals came from many modalities, including humanistic and integrative therapy, Jungian psychology, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and clinical psychology. The modern pagans came from the Bristol Goddess Temple, Druidry, shamanic practice, and the broader syncretic modern pagan community.
  2. Six ‘shamanic practice’ mornings, each of which was attended by roughly fifteen participants. Several additional academics were involved in these, including Charmaine Sonnex (University of Buckingham, Psychology) and Susannah Deane (UoB, Religion and Theology).
  3. A sold-out short talk and participatory activity at the Bristol Cube Microplex, in which Kurt Lampe explained and then creatively reenacted (with the audience) two festivals for Zeus from ancient Athens.
  4. A closing half-day workshop at the Bristol Goddess Temple.

Through these activities many new relationships were created, both between Kurt and other participants and among the participants themselves. The shamanic activities series continued independently of this project, without further funding, until the pandemic arrived. The therapists who organize the Bristol Jung Lectures invited both Kurt and two of the pagan practitioners they met in this project to deliver lectures in their annual series. Collaboration continues.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Kurt Lampe (Classics and Ancient History, University of Bristol) is a researcher interested in how mental wellbeing is bound up with the health of various systems outside the individual, from social and spiritual forces to technology and politics.
  • Polly Wood is a medical doctor and humanistic and integrative psychotherapist. She has worked extensively inside the NHS and in private practice, and coordinates the mailing list for the local Jung lecture series.

What were the results?

This project aimed more at relationship-building and brainstorming than concrete outputs. In 2019 Kurt submitted an AHRC networking project grant based on this collaboration. In 2023 he plans to submit a multi-year research grant proposal on this topic to the Templeton Foundation and the AHRC, both on the topic of ‘Sanity for Individuals, Communities, and the Cosmos: An Ancient Greek Approach’.

Some of the academic and public presentations by Kurt Lampe to which this project led were ‘Thérapie cognitive dans un monde spirituel’, Université de Bordeaux Michel Montaigne, France, 2.2019; ‘The Spiritual Dimension of Stoic Ascesis’, KU Leuven, Belgium, 10.2019; ‘Magical Thinking’, Night at the Museum, Bristol City Museum, 11.2019; ‘Orestes and Masculine Rebirth’, Jung Lecture, Bristol, 1.2021; ‘The Importance of Sound Guts: An Ancient Greek Conception of Mental Health’, Callington Road Psychiatric Hospital, Avonside and Wiltshire Mental Health Trust, Bristol, 3.2021.

Some of the ideas developed in this project have reached publication as Kurt Lampe (2021) ‘Mental Health and Transcendence in Antiquity and Today: Commentary on Graiver’, Journal of the History of Psychology 24.1: 13-6; Kurt Lampe (2021), ‘Orestes, Katabasis, and Aggrieved Masculine Entitlement’, in P. Bishop, T. Dawson, and L. Gardner, eds., Descent of the Soul: Katabasis and Depth Psychology, London: Routledge.