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Dissimulation or Assimilation? The Case of the Mandæans1

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AbstractOne of the smallest ethno-religious groups native to Iraq and Iran, the Mandæans can claim to be one of the region’s longest surviving traditions as the last remaining Gnostic religion from Late Antiquity. Their survival is as puzzling as it is remarkable. According to their own traditions, they have always lived in close proximity to members of other faiths, never composing more than a small fraction of the population, and were always subject to the rule of others. Perhaps for this reason, the Mandæans have often presented their faith to outsiders in a manner that emphasizes common practices and shared beliefs, while still establishing barriers to full assimilation. While this strategy may have sustained the Mandæans as a community over the centuries, it has also repeatedly failed to protect them in times of intense sectarian conflict and is beginning to break down as Mandæans increasingly spread throughout the world.

Affiliations: 1: African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and LiteraturesLucy Stone Hall B-310, 54 Joyce Kilmer Avenue, Piscataway, NJ


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