The Cosmology of Lists in Ancient and Contemporary Societies


  • Ingvild Sælid Gilhus



lists, cosmology, institutions, Mesopotamia, The Roman Empire, Norway


This essay is my keynote address to the conference Religions, Science and Technology in Cultural Contexts: Dynamics of Change, NTNU, Trondheim (2012), on the topic of ‘lists’: omen compendia, lists of gods, lists of the names of a god, catalogues of saints, lists of canonical books, lists of angels, catalogues of things that are forbidden and things that are allowed, lists of heresies. Religions would have looked very different without the aid of lists. And where would science have been without taxonomies, registers, lexicons, catalogues, statistics and scientific bibliographies? List making is a universal human technology. It is powerful, because the purpose of lists is to control the world. Making lists usually implies taking power over something and someone. Lists may serve religious as well as scientific purposes, or both at the same time. They reflect and produce knowledge and have cosmological implications because in them things that are seen as belonging together are kept together, and things, which are seen as different from each other, are kept apart. The nature and functions of lists are explored here with examples are from three periods and areas: Mesopotamia, the Roman Empire and contemporary Norway.

This paper is one of a collection that originated in the IAHR Special Conference “Religions, Science and Technology in Cultural Contexts: Dynamics of Change”, held at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology on March 1–2, 2012. For an overall introduction see the article by Ulrika Mårtensson, also published here.




How to Cite

Gilhus, I. S. . (2020). The Cosmology of Lists in Ancient and Contemporary Societies. Marburg Journal of Religion, 22(2).