Experiencing the Cosmos

Seneca’s Silent Prayer from a Cognitive Perspective


  • Maik Patzelt Universität Osnabrück




Seneca, religious experience, silent prayer, Roman religion, Stoic philosophy


This article is a first attempt to disclose the experiential quality of those silent prayers which Seneca suggests are most appropriate to his readers. Previous studies highlight these silent prayers as being solely ethical and, therefore, entirely unemotional, but a close and rigorous reading of Seneca’s references to them through the lens of a cognitive approach shows these prayers are actually considered as ecstatic practices, indeed ecstatic strategies that – in combination with Seneca’s philosophical framework – facilitate an experience of the divine, even an experience of the contemplation of the divine.

Author Biography

Maik Patzelt, Universität Osnabrück

Maik Patzelt is Lecturer in Ancient History at the History Department of the University of Osnabrück, Germany, and a Research Fellow (2019-2020) at the History Department of the University of Sheffield, UK. During his MA studies at Humboldt University, Berlin (2010–2012) and his PhD studies at the Max Weber Centre at Erfurt (2013–2016), he specialized in ancient history, with a particular focus on the social and religious history of Rome from the Late Republic to Late Antiquity. He has recently published a monograph, Über das Beten der Römer (2018), and a number of articles that investigate Roman prayers through the lenses of emotion theory, cognitive science, and theory of practice. The author would like to acknowledge the help of Paul Scade, who proofread the initial manuscript, and who helped him to refine some arguments on Seneca’s philosophy. He also wants to express his gratitude to the members of the Max Weber Centre, who discussed the first steps of this approach with him. The author also thanks the members of the Religion, Cognition and Culture group at Aarhus University, Denmark, for discussing their insights into the wide field of cognitive theory in the study of religion, whilst he stayed there as visiting PhD student in 2016. The same gratitude extends to the proofreaders and copyeditor of this journal, who helped to further refine the final version of this article.


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How to Cite

Patzelt, M. (2020). Experiencing the Cosmos: Seneca’s Silent Prayer from a Cognitive Perspective. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 5(1-2), 87–114. https://doi.org/10.1558/jch.37225