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Back to a Classic Debate: Conversion and Salvation in Ancient Mystery Cults?

A. D. Nock’s 1933 classic study continues to set the terms of the debate on the presence of conversion in ancient religion. Even those who question his model still depart from its critical discussion: e. g. Birgitte Bøgh entitled her 2015 study on conversion in mystery cults “Beyond Nock”. Rather than accepting or rejecting the idea of conversion in its entirety, scholars aim to distinguish types of evidence, cults, and epochs in which it can be used. Conversion is never absolute but should be understood in relation to other categories like salvation, literary genres, and individual and collective social identities. Precisely in the field of the mysteries, these more nuanced views, along with the recent approaches from a cognitive perspective that have been applied to specific cults like Eleusis or Mithras, offer a good opportunity to reevaluate the relevance and meanings of conversion in a productive way, in which implicit comparison with Christianity does not hinder some key dimensions of ancient Greek religion.

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