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Sacred Stories Cover

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Sacred Stories

Religion and Spirituality in Modern Russia

Edited by Mark D. Steinberg and Heather J. Coleman

Sacred Stories brings together the work of leading scholars writing on the history of religion and religiosity in late imperial Russia during the critical decades preceding the 1917 revolutions. Embodying new research and new methodologies, this book reshapes our understanding of the place of religion in modern Russian history. Topics examined include miraculous icons and healing, pilgrim narratives, confessions, women and Orthodox domesticity, marriage and divorce, conversion and tolerance, Jewish folk beliefs, mysticism in Russian art, and philosophical aspects of Orthodox religious thought. Sacred Stories demonstrates that belief, spirituality, and the sacred were powerful and complex cultural expressions central to Russian political, social, economic, and cultural life.

Contributors are Nicholas B. Breyfogle, Heather J. Coleman, Gregory L. Freeze, Nadieszda Kizenko, Alexei A. Kurbanovsky, Roy R. Robson, Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, Gabriella Safran, Vera Shevzov, Sarah Abrevaya Stein, Mark Steinberg, Paul Valliere, William G. Wagner, Paul W. Werth, and Christine D. Worobec.

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Sacred Subdivisions

The Postsuburban Transformation of American Evangelicalism

Justin Wilford

In an era where church attendance has reached an all-time low, recent polling has shown that Americans are becoming less formally religious and more promiscuous in their religious commitments. Within both mainline and evangelical Christianity in America, it is common to hear of secularizing pressures and increasing competition from nonreligious sources. Yet there is a kind of religious institution that has enjoyed great popularity over the past thirty years: the evangelical megachurch. Evangelical megachurches not only continue to grow in number, but also in cultural, political, and economic influence. To appreciate their appeal is to understand not only how they are innovating, but more crucially, where their innovation is taking place.
 
In this groundbreaking and interdisciplinary study, Justin G. Wilford argues that the success of the megachurch is hinged upon its use of space: its location on the postsuburban fringe of large cities, its fragmented, dispersed structure, and its focus on individualized spaces of intimacy such as small group meetings in homes, which help to interpret suburban life as religiously meaningful and create a sense of belonging. Based on original fieldwork at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, one of the largest and most influential megachurches in America, Sacred Subdivisions explains how evangelical megachurches thrive by transforming mundane secular spaces into arenas of religious significance.

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Sacred Texts and Buried Treasures

Issues on the Historical Archaeology of Ancient Japan

William W. Farris

The Japanese have long sought inspiration and legitimacy from the written record of their ancient past. The shaping of bygone eras to contemporary agendas began at least by the early eighth century, when the first court histories, namely the Kojiki and the Nihon shoki, were compiled. Since the late nineteenth century, historians have extensively mined these texts and other written evidence and by the late 1970s had nearly exhausted their meager sources. Fortunately for all those interested in uncovering the origins of Japanese civilization, archaeologists have been hard at work. Today, thanks to this postwar "archaeology boom," Japan historians have never been closer to recreating the lives of prehistoric peasants, ancient princes, and medieval samurai. Sacred Texts and Buried Treasures offers substantial new insights into early Japanese history (A.D. 100-800) through an integrated discussion of historical texts and archaeological artifacts. It contends that the rich archaeological discoveries of the past few decades permit scholars to develop far more satisfactory interpretations of ancient Japan than was possible when they were heavily dependent on written sources.

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Sacred Violence

Torture, Terror, and Sovereignty

Paul W. Kahn

In Sacred Violence, the distinguished political and legal theorist Paul W. Kahn investigates the reasons for the resort to violence characteristic of premodern states. In a startling argument, he contends that law will never offer an adequate account of political violence. Instead, we must turn to political theology, which reveals that torture and terror are, essentially, forms of sacrifice. Kahn forces us to acknowledge what we don't want to see: that we remain deeply committed to a violent politics beyond law. Paul W. Kahn is Robert W. Winner Professor of Law and the Humanities at Yale Law School and Director of the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights. Cover Illustration: "Abu Ghraib 67, 2005" by Fernando Botero. Courtesy of the artist and the American University Museum.

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The Sacredness of the Person

A New Genealogy of Human Rights

Hans Joas

What are the origins of the idea of human rights and universal human dignity? How can we most fully understand -- and realize -- these rights going into the future? In The Sacredness of the Person, internationally renowned sociologist and social theorist Hans Joas tells a story that differs from conventional narratives by tracing the concept of human rights back to the Judeo-Christian tradition or, alternately, to the secular French Enlightenment. While drawing on sociologists such as Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Ernst Troeltsch, Joas sets out a new path, proposing an affirmative genealogy in which human rights are the result of a process of "sacralization" of every human being.

According to Joas, every single human being has increasingly been viewed as sacred. He discusses the abolition of torture and slavery, once common practice in the pre-18th century west, as two milestones in modern human history. The author concludes by portraying the emergence of the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 as a successful process of value generalization. Joas demonstrates that the history of human rights cannot adequately be described as a history of ideas or as legal history, but as a complex transformation in which diverse cultural traditions had to be articulated, legally codified, and assimilated into practices of everyday life. The sacralization of the person and universal human rights will only be secure in the future, warns Joas, through continued support by institutions and society, vigorous discourse in their defense, and their incarnation in everyday life and practice.

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Sacrifice

René Girard

In Sacrifice, René Girard interrogates the Brahmanas of Vedic India, exploring coincidences with mimetic theory that are too numerous and striking to be accidental. Even that which appears to be dissimilar fails to contradict mimetic theory, but instead corresponds to the minimum of illusion without which sacrifice becomes impossible.
     The Bible reveals collective violence, similar to that which generates sacrifice everywhere, but instead of making victims guilty, the Bible and the Gospels reveal the persecutors of a single victim. Instead of elaborating myths, they tell the truth absolutely contrary to the archaic sense. Once exposed, the single victim mechanism can no longer function as the model for would-be sacrificers.
     Recognizing that the Vedic tradition also converges on a revelation that discredits sacrifice, mimetic theory locates within sacrifice itself a paradoxical power of quiet reflection that leads, in the long run, to the eclipse of this institution which is violent but nevertheless fundamental to the development of human culture. Far from unduly privileging the Western tradition and awarding it a monopoly on the knowledge and repudiation of blood sacrifice, mimetic analysis recognizes comparable, but never truly identical, traits in the Vedic tradition.

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Sacrifice As Gift

Sacrifice as Gift is a timely presentation of a forgotten vision of eucharistic sacrifice, one that reconfigures the current philosophical and theological divide between sacrifice and gift.

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Sacrifice in the Modern World

On the Particularity and Generality of Nazi Myth

David Pan

This is an extremely exciting manuscript—path-breaking, bold, and comprehensive—that could be received in the intellectual world as a major theoretical statement, while also representing an insightful treatment of a specific cultural historical moment (Nazi Germany) but also key intellectual lineages that surround it. There's a lot at stake here, in the big picture (the question of sacrifice and the interpretation of Germany) as well as in the many rich building blocks of the argument (the treatments of Kant, Nietzsche, Adorno, Bataille, Girard, etc.).

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The Sacrifice of Socrates

Wm. Blake Tyrrell

When Athenians suffered the shame of having lost a war from their own greed and foolishness, around 404 BCE the public’s blame was directed at Socrates, a man whose unique appearance and behavior, as well as his disapproval of the democracy, made him a ready target. Socrates was subsequently put on trial and sentenced to death. However, as René Girard has pointed out, no individual can be held responsible for a communal crisis. Plato’s Apology depicts Socrates as both the bane and the cure of Greek society, while his Crito shows a sacrificial Socrates, what some might consider a pharmakos figure, the human drug through whom Plato can dispense his philosophical remedies. With tremendous insight and satisfying complexity, this book analyzes classical texts through the lens of Girard’s mimetic mechanism.

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The Sacrificed Body

Balkan Community Building and the Fear of Freedom

by Tatjana Aleksic

Examines the themes of sacrifice and violence for the sake of community, nation, and ideology by taking up the Balkan legend of the immurement of a live female body into an architectural edifice that cannot stand without a human sacrifice. The sacrificed body becomes a metaphor for acts of violence in the course of the region’s many ethno-religious conflicts in the 20th century, as Aleksic demonstrates how this sacrificial economy functions in a range of cultural and literary texts. The theoretical framework encompasses sociological analyses, feminist theory, human rights reports, and other sources documenting the destruction of individual subjectivities by the purported necessity of nationalist projects.

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