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The Old and the New in Religion from Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo

A. D. Nock

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Originally published in 1933, Conversion is a seminal study of the psychology and circumstances of conversion from about 500 B.C.E. to about 400 A.D. A.D. Nock not only discusses early Christianity and its converts, but also examines non-Christian religions and philosophy, the means by which they attracted adherents, and the factors influencing and limiting their success. Christianity succeeded, he argues, in part because it acquired and adapted those parts of other philosophies and religions that had a popular appeal.



From the time when each petty State had its peculiar set of local deities down to the final triumph of the Catholic Church, [Nock] traces the history, and to some extent the psychology, of the processes by which religions were gradually syncretized and their minor differences canceled out.

There has been so much loose writing and talking in recent times about the relation of the so-called mystery religions to Christianity that Professor Nock's erudite and sympathetic presentation of the points of likeness and unlikeness between them... is a very valuable contribution to the history of religion.

The reader will find much to fascinate him in the author's development of this theme. With a sure hand he traces the ways by which Eastern religious ideas penetrated the West, following paths of trade, carried by soldiers from one end of the empire to the other, communicated by Oriental slaves to Roman masters.

A. D. Nock's Conversion and William James' Varieties of Religious Experience are the two most cited books in the field of conversion studies.


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A. D. Nock

Arthur Darby Nock (1902-1963) was the Frothingham Professor of the History of Religion at Harvard University. He was for years one of the world's leading authorities on the religions of later antiquity. He is also the author of Early Gentile Christianity and Its Hellenistic Background and Essays on Religion and the Ancient World.