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Luke Driesen

HIST 134

17 June 2018

Final Portfolio: Religion Morals & Traditions

Throughout this course, the common thread throughout all discussions and learning modules

was to understand the importance and cultivate the ability to use history as a tool to influence

society in a better way. One of the major themes throughout history that drove many people

significant, or not, to better society was religion. Religion is more than just a belief system but

rather a lifestyle where moral guidelines and traditions help steer one's actions in life. Augustus,

Emperor of Rome, is known as one of the greatest leaders of all time. A leader who was

undoubtedly influenced by these types of religious ideals, rooted in culture born from former

societies. Augustus, however, found the power religion can have on society, and used it “as a

tool to protect his position and promote his political agenda” (“Augustus”). Living on the pillars

of the need for religious revival and reform throughout the Roman Empire ultimately led

Augustus to act responsibly, contribute towards society, and lead to the revival of Rome.

Augustus was the first emperor of the newly formed Roman Empire who governed for over 40

years, starting in 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.

Augustus throughout his life rejected monarchical titles, and instead called himself

Princeps Civitatis. Befittingly, the ensuing constitutional framework became known as the

“Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire” (“Augustus”). It has been documented that,

“he re-established traditional social rules and religious rituals, sacrificing animals to Rome’s

gods” (“Augustus”). Based on this example Augustus can definitely be seen as a man uses
religious values and strong morals for the power religion played in it. Knowing the historical

significance religion had played in Rome, “the changing perspectives of historical understanding

are the very best introduction we can have to the practical problems of real life” ( McNeill).

My next example that points into history is the civilization of ancient Greece. Polytheistic

Greek religion encompassed a myriad of gods, each representing a certain facet of the human

condition, and even abstract ideas such as justice and wisdom could have their own

personification. People also looked for signs from the gods in everyday life and to interpret these

signs as indicators of future events (Cartwright). Throughout ancient Greece, from a slave to the

Senate, day to day life of their society was influenced by the ritualistic religion of serving the

gods through acts of piety and worship. This religion undoubtedly impacted decisions made by

not only the Greek Senate but any citizens as well as males 18 years or over, who could speak

and vote in the assembly of Athens. The Greek decision making and the rule of government

which ultimately lead to the formation of democracy was one rooted in tradition but also rooted

in religion as well. I believe that it is this form of Greek democracy that created a ripple

throughout history forever altering future societies and the way governments rule to this day. By

studying and learning about Greek society and the influence of religion, "we can use history as a

lesson: a lesson of intentions, movements, experiments, and human production; a lesson that

builds integrity and character” (Postma).

My last example points to the endeavors after the fall of the Roman Empire, specifically within

Merovingian society and Gregory of Tours. After the fall of the Roman Empire, there was

questioning of what truly holds a society together. In these middle ages between 400 AD and

1100 AD, having seen many governments fail, people resorted to things like kinship, family,

private vengeance, and religion as structures holding society together. Focusing primarily on
religion Gregory rationalized that Christianity was not only a religion, but Christianity was “the

thing that holds society together". If you asked Gregory what holds society together, he would

give some kind of answer on the order of the bishops, the saints, the supernatural, the Church

(Lecture 11-Frankish Society). The main purpose of a king was to then make sure that the mere

threat of divine vengeance is backed up by threats of a more immediate sort (Lecture 11-

Frankish Society). This is a major example of how many truly felt society should be governed

and shines a light on the amount of power the church and religion held on people's decision

making for hundreds of years. We can learn from Frankish history that it is important to have a

balance. We need both specific expertise and the fruits of contemplation. "We need passionate

commitment to both job training and liberal learning, especially when they seem to clash in

opposition so that we are ready to respond to the unexpected events that life generates" (Perry).

I have found that it proves extremely valuable to be able to analyze and learn from past

history. Understanding how decisions were made, what factors lead to their outcomes, and the

lasting impact these decisions had on humanity are all key takeaways from studying history.

“History asks the question are men inherently good” or are they molded by morals (McNeill). I

believe men are influenced by historical and religiously instilled morals. Through analyzing

religion and the morals and traditions associated with such belief systems I have realized the

scope of how the world we know today was influenced by decisions made thousands of years

ago. Decisions which have been rooted in religious belief and thought. I have learned through

this course that as a society, the decisions we make however small or innocent they may seem

will have a lasting impact on the future of the humanity. Therefore, I believe the most important

thing that I can do from here on out is to strive to contribute positively towards my society.
Works Cited

“Augustus.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service,

www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/augustus_religion.html.

Cartwright, Mark. “Ancient Greek Religion.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History

Encyclopedia, 13 Mar. 2018, www.ancient.eu/Greek_Religion/.

Lecture 11 - Frankish Society. Yale University, https://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-210/lecture-

11#ch1.

McNeill, William H. “Why Study History? (1985) | AHA.” Khafre | AHA, American Historical

Association, www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/historical-

archives/why-study-history-(1985).

Perry, David M. “How History Can Help Us Predict the Next Pope.” The Atlantic, Atlantic

Media Company, 12 Mar. 2013, www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/03/how-

history-can-help-us-predict-the-next-pope/273945/.

Postma, Michael. “What Can History Teach Us Today?” Manipulated Kids: Teens Tell How Ads

Influence Them - Educational Leadership, ASCD, www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol6/622-

postma.aspx.