Two books recently have made me wonder about the insights into the development of religion and culture in the Indian subcontinent. The Final Pagan Generation: Rome’s Unexpected Path to Christianity explicitly makes an analogy to local Hindu gods and shrines to allow us to conceptualize what pre-Christian Roman religion was like. The whole city was the purview of the gods, and their presence pervaded the world. The Final Pagan Generation notes that even though the attack on grand public temples such as the Serapion at the end of the 4th century are salient and notable, even 100 years later Christian mobs were able to collect thousands of items of religious significance through Alexandria.
Recently I have been reading The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao. The author notes that though the great traditions of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, warrant public notice, the reality is that pre-modern Chinese religion was dominated by local gods, with numerous temples to the gods of a particular city, or a particular profession. Reviled as “superstition” in the early 20th century, these local gods and their shrines were torn down and destroyed first by the Nationalists, and later the Communists. 21st century China has only slowly been allow for the reemergence of this religious substrate.
One could argue that Abrahamic religions lack these organically developed local twists. But this is actually not true, as for Catholic Catholics saints and relics are a critical intermediary layer in their religious institution, and within many forms of Islam, the shrines of saints are critical. Rather, particular forms of Protestant Christianity and Salafist Islam are peculiar in their abstraction and rational decoupling from place.