Cult and religion are synonymous for some religious sects within Roman culture, an adjunct anthropology professor told students and faculty Monday.
Over a catered lunch, students and faculty listened to a lecture by Jennifer Lockett, adjunct anthropology professor and classical archaeologist, titled "Ancient Roman Cults and Mystery Religions," organized by Chi Delta Mu , an academic religious student organization. Chi Delta Mu is open to all students and organizes weekly lectures in different disciplines every Monday.
Lockett said the definition of a cult is veneration, adoration and worship.
The Roman mystery cults, a religious sect of Roman culture with selective membership and without public rituals, were just as important as traditional Roman religions and practices in Roman culture, Lockett said.
Romans were tolerant of other religious traditions when they conquered the East Mediterranean and Asia Minor, Lockett said, allowing cults to coexist without conflict.
She said not only did the unknown allure members, but the offer of a better afterlife attracted many worshipers.
The mystery cults promised a better afterlife, but they were also an easy scapegoat during times of social and political upheaval, Lockett said.
The cults suffered waves of violent suppression throughout history, she said.
Prominent cults, like the Cult of Bacchus, triggered many conspiracy theories to hatch and cause witch hunts. In 186 B.C., 7,000 suspected members of the Cult of Bacchus were hunted and killed because they were deemed dangerous to the state, she said.
Mystery cults still exist, such as the Freemasons, revived and made popular by author Dan Brown, author of "Da Vinci Code," Lockett said.
Jeremy Arnold , president of Chi Delta Mu , Lockett's lecture appealed to him because it gave him insight to some history of Rome, where he plans to study for the entire next semester.