Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and by Mary Douglas

By Mary Douglas

In Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas identifies the worry for purity as a key subject matter on the middle of each society. In energetic and lucid prose she explains its relevance for each reader via revealing its wide-ranging effect on our attitudes to society, values, cosmology and data. The booklet has been highly influential in lots of components of dialogue - from faith to social thought. yet possibly its most vital position is to provide every one reader a brand new clarification of why humans behave within the manner they do.

Originally e-book: 1966

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Additional resources for Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo

Sample text

This he answers by reference to the fictive, abstract nature of religious entities. They are merely ideas awakened by the experience of society, merely collective ideas projected outwards, mere expressions of morality. So they have no fixed material point of reference. Even the graven images of ritual uncleanness gods are only material emblems of immaterial forces generated by the social process. Therefore they are ultimately rootless, fluid, liable to become unfocussed and to flow into other experiences.

Black & Chrystal, pp. 126–7) His biographers suggest that the association of magic with Catholicism was a canny move to shame his die-hard Protestant opponents into more courageous intellectual dealings with the Bible. Whatever the Scot’s motives, the historical fact remains that comparative religion has inherited an ancient sectarian quarrel about the value of formal ritual. And now the time has come to show how an emotional and prejudiced approach to ritual has led anthropology down one of its barrenest perspectives – a narrow preoccupation with belief in the efficacy of rites.

Certainly it has been very widely held and is still taught in one cryptic form or another to this day. Take the following remark of Eliade: The ambivalence of the sacred is not only in the psychological order (in that it attracts or repels), but also in the order of values; the sacred is at once ‘sacred’ and ‘defiled’. (1958, pp. 14–15) The statement can be made to sound less paradoxical. It could mean that our idea of sanctity has become very specialised, and that in some primitive cultures the sacred is a very general idea meaning little more than prohibition.

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