Post-Hellenistic Philosophy, Neoplatonism, and the Doxastic Turn in Religion: Continuities and Ruptures in Ancient Reflections on Religion

In: Numen

This article is inspired by Peter Van Nuffelen’s comparison between post-Hellenistic philosophy and Neoplatonism. The article defends the thesis of a fundamental break between ancient religions and new universal religions which became prevalent at the end of late antiquity. This break concerns not only fundamental doctrines but also the principles of how religious communities were constituted. There was a shift from the world of practice-oriented and reciprocally recognizing cults to the world of exclusive theocracies whose mindset emphasizes doctrinal confession. Some seeds of such a “doxastic turn” are to be seen in the post-Hellenistic philosophy and especially in the dogmatic tendencies of Middle Platonism. Thus, there is an observable route from the post-Hellenistic thought towards late ancient universal religions.

Neoplatonism’s role in this historical drama is not that of precursor but, rather, it represents a deviation from the main line.

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