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Beyond Sacred Violence

A Comparative Study of Sacrifice

Kathryn McClymond

Publication Year: 2008

For many Westerners, the term sacrifice is associated with ancient, often primitive ritual practices. It suggests the death—frequently violent, often bloody—of an animal victim, usually with the aim of atoning for human guilt. Sacrifice is a serious ritual, culminating in a dramatic event. The reality of religious sacrificial acts across the globe and throughout history is, however, more expansive and inclusive. In Beyond Sacred Violence, Kathryn McClymond argues that the modern Western world’s reductive understanding of sacrifice simplifies an enormously broad and dynamic cluster of religious activities. Drawing on a comparative study of Vedic and Jewish sacrificial practices, she demonstrates not only that sacrifice has no single, essential, identifying characteristic but also that the elements most frequently attributed to such acts—death and violence—are not universal. McClymond reveals that the world of religious sacrifice varies greatly, including grain-based offerings, precious liquids, and complex interdependent activities. Engagingly argued and written, Beyond Sacred Violence significantly extends our understanding of religious sacrifice and serves as a timely reminder that the field of religious studies is largely framed by Christianity.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

"No author produces a body of scholarship without the support and assistance of countless others: colleagues, university staff, students, friends, and family. I thank all those who have contributed to this work in large and small ways. In particular, I thank Georgia State University for the financial support of two Research Initiation Grants, which made trips to India..."


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-24

"In this trial, we have been reminded, and the world has seen, that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave. We see our national character in rescuers working past exhaustion; in long lines of blood donors; in thousands of citizens who have asked to work and serve in any way possible. And we have seen our..."

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1 Re-imagining Sacrifice

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pp. 25-43

"Despite the importance of sacrifice as a phenomenon of religious experience, scholars have had considerable diffculty explaining it. One has the gut feeling that certain acts (e.g., a Roman Catholic Mass) are more sacrificial, others (e.g., a county fair pie-eating contest) less so. Why is this? What..."

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2 Reevaluating the Role of Killing in Sacrifice

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pp. 44-64

"In the popular imagination, sacrifice is most closely associated with killing. Similarly, scholarly approaches to sacrifice have also tended to emphasize the importance of killing. As a result, research on sacrifice has over-looked the importance of other activities performed during sacrificial ritual.1 In fact, the theories of sacrifice that dominate religious studies..."

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3 Vegetal Offerings as Sacrifice

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pp. 65-91

"When theorizing about sacrifice, scholars automatically think animal victims. Vegetal offerings are, if anything, merely an after thought. The dominant theorists—Hubert, Mauss, Burkert, and Girard—virtually ignore vegetal sacrifice in their work, literally reducing vegetal offerings to footnotes.1 Consequently, the manipulation of vegetal substances (grain cakes,..."

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4 Liquid Sacrificial Offerings

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pp. 92-130

"If vegetal offerings have been relegated to the fringes of sacrificial theorizing, then liquid offerings have been swept completely aside. Scholars of sacrifice virtually ignore the manipulation of liquid substances in their general theorizing, even though liquid substances permeate most of the world’s great sacrificial systems, including the Vedic and Jewish traditions...."

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5 The Apportionment of Sacrificial Offerings

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pp. 131-151

"In this chapter I focus on one type of sacrificial activity, the apportionment (division and distribution of ritually valued substances in specified ways) of an offering. I examine the procedures involved in dividing the traditional Vedic and Jewish animal victims and then touch briefly on parallels in the treatment of grain-cake offerings. I hope to demonstrate..."

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pp. 152-166

"In the previous chapters I have focused on sacrifice in the brahmanical Hindu and the biblical and tannaitic Jewish texts.1 I have argued that sacrifice needs to be re-imagined in a polythetic way—that is, without a single, essential, defining characteristic. Indeed, sacrificial events need to be understood as complex combinations of the various activities we have..."


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pp. 167-186


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pp. 187-206


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pp. 207-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780801896293
E-ISBN-10: 0801896290
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801887765
Print-ISBN-10: 0801887763

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2008