Conversion in Mystery Religions? Theory Meets Mysteries and Conversion
The Complexity of Conversion - Intersectional Perspectives on Religious Change in Antiquity and Beyond - Valérie Nicolet
Gerhard Van Den Heever [+]
University of South Africa
Gerhard van den Heever has been a full professor at the University of South Africa, since 2012, after a long career as senior lecturer and associate professor, as well as a short stint as minister in a church. He teaches courses in New Testament and Early Christian Studies. His research focuses on the Gospel of John in its Graeco-Roman context, Greek and Roman religions–especially the transformations in religious formations from the classical to the Late Antique period, history of religion, and contemporary theory of religion. He is currently editing a collection of essays, After Religion, which deals with theorizing historiography of religion in Antiquity. Current projects include an international colloquium on Mapping Transformations towards a Christian Late Antiquity, as well as a publication of essays on Twilights of Greek and Roman Religions.
This essay significantly redescribes and retheorizes mystery religions, religion, and conversion. The concepts of conversion and mystery religions are problematized through redescriptive theorizing of religion. Focusing on Apuleius/Lucius’s ‘conversion’ in The Golden Ass, and the cases of Late Roman aristocrats’ initiations into mysteries, this essay argues that ‘conversion’ is not an applicable term to use for entry into mystery cult group membership; and second, that perhaps it is best to abandon the term conversion, even for Christianity and Judaism. What is conventionally thought to be indicated by ‘conversion,’ are normal processes of social formation and identity maintenance.