Violent Origins Walter Burkert, Rene Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation

ISBN-10: 0804715181

ISBN-13: 9780804715188

Edition: 1987

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Description: Burkert, Girard, and Smith hold important and contradictory theories about the nature and origin of ritual sacrifice, and the role violence plays in religion and culture. These papers and conversations derive from a conference that pursued the possibility and utility of a general theory of religion and culture, especially one based on violence. The special value of this volume is the conversations as such--the real record of working scholars engaged with one another's theories, as they make and meet challenges, and move and maneuver. Book jacket.

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Book details

List price: $30.95
Copyright year: 1987
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 11/1/1988
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 292
Size: 5.75" wide x 8.50" long x 0.75" tall
Weight: 0.748
Language: English

German-born scholar Walter Burkert currently teaches at the University of Zurich. He is the leading active scholar of the religion of early and classical Greece. Burkert's work proceeds through intense, meticulous historical and philological investigation, seeking to understand Greek religion in and of itself. His studies wed philology and history with methods drawn from anthropology and resemble the work of Jonathan Z. Smith. But, unlike Smith, who seems to rule out diachronic considerations categorically in favor of synchronic taxonomies or analogical comparisons, Burkert remains interested in questions of long-term historical evolution and cross-cultural influence. Burkert gives particular attention to psychological causation and the biological roots of human behavior as revealed by the science of ethology. For example, his study of Greek sacrifice, Homo necans, roots the practice of sacrifice in the biological necessity faced by prehistoric hunting groups that killed to survive. Burkert suggests that this necessary, aggressive behavior gave rise to anxiety, but through the practice of sacrifice the unavoidable aggression, which otherwise threatened to destroy society, was redirected to its promotion instead. In Structure and History Burkert's theoretical concerns are larger, including both myth and ritual. The precise relation between myth and ritual has been a vexing question for scholars of ancient religions; Burkert places them side by side and links them at a structural level. He thinks ritual is older than myth, because it is a form of behavior found even in animals. Nevertheless, ritual and myth share several important features: Both depend upon basic biological or cultural programs of action and detachment from pragmatic reality. Both serve communication. Because myth and ritual are related in this way, it is possible for them to be found together. Burkert's Greek Religion is the current, standard handbook on the religions of ancient Greece. His most recent work has been devoted to examining the influence of the ancient Near East on archaic Greek civilization.

Participants
Introduction: Religion and Ritual
Generative Scapegoating
Discussion
The Problem of Ritual Killing
Discussion
The Domestication of Sacrifice
Discussion
Anthropological Commentary
Discussion
References
Index
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