Examining a wide array of ancient writings, Brent Nongbri dispels the commonly held idea that there is such a thing as "ancient religion". Nongbri shows how misleading it is to speak as though religion was a concept native to pre-modern cultures; at the same time, he provides an intriguing narrative of how the concept of religion developed in the early modern age and how, in spite of its recent pedigree, religion has come to seem like such a natural and universal feature of human societies. In antiquity, says Nongbri, there was no conceptual arena that could be designated as "religious" as opposed to "secular". He shows that the idea of religion as a sphere of life distinct from politics, economics, or science is a recent development in European history - a development that has been projected outward in space and backwards in time with the result that religion now appears to be a natural and necessary part of our world.
Surveying representative episodes from a two-thousand year period, while constantly attending to the concrete social, political, and colonial contexts that shaped relevant works of philosophers, legal theorists, missionaries, and others, Nongbri offers a concise and readable account of the emergence of the concept of religion.