In introducing the theme ‘Redescribing Graeco-Roman Antiquity’ this article shows how conventional claims to uniqueness of early Judaism and early Christianity misconstrue religious history. In fact, the conventional portrayal of early Judaism, early Christianity, and Graeco-Roman religions (especially, in this case, the mystery religions) is in itself a social discourse. This is set in the context of the Graeco-Roman constructions of deity, which is demonstrated to be in themselves, too, social discourses, more speciﬁcally, an imperialising discourse. Attention is paid to the discursivity of the phenomena under consideration and it is argued that history of religion is both a study of the construction of the historical ‘object’ as well as the construction of the construction of the historical ‘object’.
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.
In a comparative study the issue is raised about the relationship between the construction of the saviour-image in Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Hinduism. The historical links between these traditions are highlighted and then the article proceeds to argue that when compared, the projections of the images of Jesus and Buddha, Jesus and Zoroaster and Jesus and Krishna exhibit a high degree of similarity. In the process questions are asked about the nature of religion and the value of comparative study.
In introducing this issue on 'Religion and Identity in Africa' the debates regarding African identity in religion here is placed within a wider theoretical framework of social constructivist theories of religion. Within the ambit of these social approaches to religion, it is argued that issues of identity and religion are essentially issues of mythmaking and social formation with a view to satisfying social interests. However, describing religion and explaining identity formation are not innocent scholarly activities, embedded as they are in the politics of conceptual manipulation and the rhetoric of identity creation. In light of this it can be argued that the contributions assembled in this issue represent both descriptions of processes, and appeals to or indicators towards the development of an African identity in conceptualising religion in the African context.