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Housing the Chosen, by Inge Nielsen

The Architectural Context of Mystery Groups and Religious Associations in the Ancient World

Reviewed by Valentino Gasparini

This is the second volume of a new series Contextualizing the Sacred, edited by Elizabeth Frood (University of Oxford) and Rubina Raja (Aarhus Universitet). A much shorter version is due to be published this March in the forthcoming Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World, co-edited by Rubina Raja and Jörg Rüpke.

As she explains in the “Introduction”, the aim of Inge Nielsen’s monograph is “to show how architecture can illuminate the functions of religious assemblies of various kinds in ancient societies” (p. 1). The bulk of the book in fact consists of an analysis of mysteries and initiations, which is also the topic of a recent book by Jan Bremmer.

The three main sections are very unequal in length. There is a long archaeological catalogue, with a detailed analysis of their architectural features (chapters 1-4); a synthetic survey of the cultic functions of initiations, mysteries, religious assemblies and communal banquets (chapters 5-6); and, more briefly still, a sketch of a typology of venues or settings chosen for their activities by mystery groups and religious associations (chapter 7).

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