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Dissertation abstract: In this thesis, I analyze the process of gradual ritualization of early Christian meals in the first four centuries CE as accompanied by the increasing popularity of beliefs in the supernatural quality of the meal elements. I advocate a general hypothesis that the long-term cultural dynamics of repetitive collective rituals is to a substantial extent driven by how they attract human cognition, an aspect which might be even of higher importance for cultural success of concrete ritual forms than how these ritual forms are designed in respect to fulfil particular social functions. After offering a short sketch of relevant cognitive theories of ritual (chapter 1) and introducing the perspective of cognitive historiography (chapter 2), I turn to the historical evidence. Tracing back in time the emergence of beliefs in the supernatural quality of the meal elements in the sources from the fourth and third century, it becomes evident that these beliefs cannot be explained by reference to the changes associated with the “Turn of Constantine” (chapter 3). Therefore, in chapter 4, I turn to the process of gradual ritualization of early Christian meal practices over the first two centuries. To emphasize the specificity of my approach in comparison to other trends in contemporary New Testament scholarship, in chapter 5, I elaborate my approach in detail in respect to the Lord’s Supper tradition in Paul. In chapter 6, I move back on a more theoretical level, while introducing a computational model of cultural transmission of rituals, which is partly based on the historical process under scrutiny.
Dissertation thesis table of contents: