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Conference Outline

Between AD 100 and AD 600, the Hellenistic-Roman world experienced radical transformations of religious identities, both of entire peoples and of individuals. In our project, we have focused mostly on the individual and group aspects. This is the period in which religious identity (both as an actual and heuristic concept) began to matter, or where it was in fact created, but there were great differences in the strength and content of this concept from one individual /group /community to another and from one period to the next. The intimate relationship between the phenomena conversion and initiation in antiquity (and today) and their complementary role in the transformation of religious identity is our main motivation for integrating the study of both of these phenomena in the project. The intention of this conference is to bring together scholars who work on related issues to hear about their latest research as well as present some of our group’s research results.


In October 2010 we held an exploratory workshop which centred around the religious identity in general and in specific explored a number of related themes in an interdisciplinary environment, namely: 1. Competitive religions and religious communities; 2. Recruitment strategies; 3. Forms of conversion and adhesion; and 4. Conversion, initiation, and new identity. This was very fruitful for our further research and spurred many questions as well. On the basis of this workshop and our further research we have chosen to focus on the following themes in the 2012 conference, because we in the course of our interdisciplinary research project have come to define these as crucial elements of conversion, initiation, and religious identity:


  1. Choice and belonging
  2. Agency in initiation and conversion
  3. Expressing change – bridge-burning or bridge building?
  4. The role of education in connection with conversion and initiation
  5. Global and local trajectories in ancient religions


Each sub-theme is meant to include what may be important elements in the different phases of an initiation or conversion process. Please see the attached outlines of each of these themes and in particular the theme for which you have been invited to give a paper.


Our conference is arranged within the frame of a comparative approach. This is relevant not only synchronically (e.g. comparison between religious groups), but also diachronically, i.e. in terms of transformation and development: our chosen period covers ca. 500 years (AD 100 – 600) and since the world, its power relations, and society changed dramatically on several points during this period, we want to explore how this affected and is reflected in the sources relating to various religious groups. We hope that this conference, which includes specialists on a number of different subjects, will inspire a fruitful discussion on the aspects of comparison and development after each paper.


We invite each scholar to contribute with a paper on one of the five themes mentioned above, and to focus it within the outline of each theme. Each paper should not be more than 30 minutes long, since we want to have enough time for discussion after each paper. The paper should include considerations of theory or method, source materials, and a specific “test case” (e.g. a specific religious group in a certain geographical area or period), but it is up to the single speaker how much weight is put on each of these issues (theory will be more relevant in some cases, source materials in another, etc.). Presentations should address issues of the character (e.g. literary account, inscriptions, monuments and artifacts) and amount of evidence and how this evidence could be approached.


The conference will begin 1st December in the afternoon and end 3rd December after dinner. 4th December is reserved for a seminar day with papers by PhD-students. We will also pay for lodging between the 3rd and Tuesday 4th .


We hope that you will be able to participate in the conference and look forward to hearing from you.


With all the best wishes,


from the organisers


On the members of the Velux-project:

Post doc Birgitte Bøgh has been working on initiation in Antique Mystery Cults in the period AD 100-500 and has been examining initiation and conversion in the cults of Dionysus, Mithras, Isis and Kybele.

Post doc Carmen Cvetkovic has been focusing on Augustine’s conversion between historical truth and fictional narrative through a reassessment of Augustine’s famous conversion(s) narratives.

Associate professor Jakob Engberg has been researching conversion and the forming of Christian identity in the period AD 100-400 using a new approach understanding the ideals of conversion and how the conversion-narratives were used in their own context in general, and in the writings of which they were part in particular.

Associate professor Anders-Christian Jacobsen has focused on an analysis of how (baptismal) creeds and catechetical writings contributed to the formation and transformation of individual and collective Christian identity.

Associate professor Rubina Raja has been studying sacred architecture in its societal context in the period AD 100 - 500 and analysed what it may tell us about rituals in connection with conversion and initiation.

More information about the Velux Project