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Making Mysteries. From the Untergang der Mysterien to Imperial Mysteries – Social Discourse in Religion and the Study of Religion

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This article considers the ‘fate’ of Graeco-Roman mysteries in late Antiquity in the context of the gradual Christianising of the Roman Empire. It is argued that the mysteries of the imperial era were themselves contributing to and demonstrative of the social ideology underlying the making of the Roman Empire. The mysteries were embedded in the imperial performance of Saturnalian good times. In order to see this one should change the perspective to study them first and foremost as imperial performances. Concomitantly, one should also study the constructions of mysteries in scholarship in order to understand the birth of our conventional understanding of the mysteries in the context of the social ideologies of the 19th century. In this way the Graeco-Roman mysteries serve as a useful case study of the constructedness of religion as social discourse as well as scholarship on religion as equally a social discourse.


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