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Conversion and Initiation in Antiquity

Shifting Identities – Creating Change


Birgitte Secher Bøgh

For decades, Arthur D. Nock’s famous definition of conversion and his distinction between conversion and adhesion have greatly influenced our understanding of individual religious transformation in the ancient world. The articles in this volume – originally presented as papers at the conference Conversion and Initiation in Antiquity (Ebeltoft, Denmark, December 2012) – aim to nuance this understanding. They do so by exploring different facets of these two phenomena in a wide range of religions in their own context and from new theoretical and empirical perspectives. The result is a compilation of many new insights into ancient initiation and conversion as well as their definitions and characteristics.
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Ontological Conversion: A Description and Analysis of Two Case Studies from Tertullian’s De Baptismo and Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis


Abstract: Marshall proposes a new way to conceive conversion even in the cases where we have no first-hand attests. He suggests that the concept of “ontological conversion” provides a fruitful entry into the issue of agency in conversion because it defines the religious group and its ideology as central agents in the conversion process.

This essay1 considers the possibility of conversion in Iamblichus’ De mysteriis and compares posited features of conversion to those drawn from Tertullian’s De baptismo.2

Many previous models of conversion have addressed the issue of passivity or activity in the individual’s conversion. From an earlier dominant scholarly point of view, a group acted upon the passive converts by brainwashing them, taking their individuality away and making them unable to choose any other option than to join the cult. Today, however, most scholars have abandoned the view on the converts as passive objects and regard them instead as active seekers.3

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