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The Multi-Sensory Experience of Mystery Cults

in the Graeco-Roman Mediterranean:

Making Sense of the Emotions of the Ancient Worshippers

Universität Erfurt, 6-8 May 2022

Call for Papers (Online Conference):

Over the last thirty years, a sensory turn is observed that has affected Classics and its cognate disciplines. This online conference, hosted by the University of Erfurt, will provide an intellectual platform for a new in-depth approach on the application of the sensory methodology into the emotional experiences of the mystery cults. While mystery cults have been studied by diverse methodological frameworks, there has not been a dedicated conference, workshop, or volume on the investigation of the sensory experience of initiatory rituals (e.g., procession, singing of hymns, ecstatic dances, water-cleansing, sacrificial rituals) in eliciting various emotions in the ancient worshippers who participated in specific mystery cults. The term “Multi-Sensory Experience” serves as a guiding principle and thread that invites the modern researcher to consider and reflect on the multiple senses through which the ancient worshipper could experience a mystery cult. For the ancient Greek and Roman worshippers, just as it is for us, religion was a multi-sensory experience. This conference, therefore, aims to delve into certain aspects of the ancient mystery cults and investigate the emotional impact of these rituals through the new sensory methodology: how the basic somatic senses (e.g., sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) of the ancient people affected their emotions as a result of their participation in the ancient mysteries? Contributions are invited on, but not restricted to, the following themes:

I. The Emotional Impact of Music and Sound: The Sense of Hearing

-To what extent the various sounds (e.g., the hearing of a sacred hymn, the participation in ecstatic dances) could affect the emotional experience of the ancient worshipper?

II. From Seeing to Knowing: The Sense of Sight

- What impact would an image (e.g., the sight of a sacred landscape, building, statue wall painting or sacred object) have had on the emotional states of the participants of the ancient mysteries?

III. The Sensory Experience of Smell during a Mystery Initiation

-How the smell of a physical aroma (e.g., a flower, a plant) or an artificial aroma (e.g., incense, a perfume) could elicit various emotions in the ancient individual during a particular ritual?

IV. The Sensory Experience of Taste and Embodied Experience

-What types of food or wine could affect the emotional experience of the participants in particular mystery cults? Are there any medicinal plants in the ancient evidence that could affect the emotions of the ancient worshippers?

V. Touching Sacred Objects: The Sense of Contact with the Divine

-How the touching of a sacred object (e.g., from the touching of a statue to the carrying of sacred objects during a procession or sacrificial rituals) affected the emotions of the ancient worshipper(s)?

VI. The Sensory Experience of Water in the Initiations of the Mysteries

-To what extent the sensorial effect of water (e.g., from bathing, cleansing, hearing the water-sound) could influence certain emotions (e.g., from fear to calmness, happiness, hope) in the ancient initiates?

Paper proposals, no longer than 400 words in length for a paper between 25 to 30 minutes, should be sent to the organizers by January 15, 2022.

Organizers: Aikaterini-Iliana Rassia ( &

Katharina Waldner (

The papers of the conference are planned to be published under Brill.