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Cognitive Science, Ritual, and the Hellenistic Mystery Religions

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Much research in the cognitive science of religion has dealt with ritual. Two forms of ritual have been focused on, those characterised by repetition and routinisation, the characteristic most often attributed ritual, and the less noted forms in which ritual performance is infrequent and irregular but highly emotional and arousing. I hope, in this essay, to suggest the utility of cognitive theorising for the historical study of ritual with examples from the religions of the Roman Empire, especially, the Hellenistic Mystery Religions and the early Christianities, and to arouse interest in pursuing such studies further in the history of religions.

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