“Hellenism, Hellenization, and Ancient Cultural Exchange”

Hellenism, Hellenization, and ancient cultural exchange are a powerful trio.  Since the late 18th century, Hellenism has been regarded as the cornerstone of Western civilization, as the ancient Greeks were credited with creating the earliest recognizable forms of modernity, such as rationality, democracy, progress, philosophy, and art.  For this reason, Hellenism has also been viewed as culturally contagious, necessitating the creation of the term Hellenization.  Hellenization is rarely precisely defined, but it involves the idea of non-Greek populations becoming culturally Greek, speaking Greek, organizing their societies like the Greeks, using Greek material culture, and worshipping Greek divinities.  In modern scholarship, not surprisingly, Hellenism and Hellenization have traditionally been the strongest and most frequently evoked causes of ancient cultural exchange in the Mediterranean and lands beyond.

In this seminar course, we will critically investigate three main questions: 1) What is Hellenism? 2) What is Hellenization? and 3) What role do Hellenism and Hellenization play in ancient cultural exchange?  Related topics, themes, and questions also include the following.  How has Hellenism been defined over the course of time?  Why has Hellenism been put on a pedestal and given such explanatory force in discussing ancient cultural exchange?  Is it still valid to do so?  How did ancient Greeks think about cultural exchange, and how have their concepts, terminologies, and values been interpreted and translated into other languages, both ancient and modern?  How has ancient Greece been used and abused by the ancient Greeks themselves, Romans, and modern Europeans and their descendants who settled elsewhere in the world?  Is Hellenization still a valid concept to explain ancient cultural exchange?  Are there other equally relevant and perhaps better ways of viewing ancient cultural exchange, such as middle ground theory and globalization?

Students will be exposed to the latest readings and thinking and will be offered the opportunity to engage in scholarly debates and present their own research findings.