Authored by: Kathryn McClymond

The Ashgate Research Companion to Anthropology

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754677031
eBook ISBN: 9781315612744
Adobe ISBN: 9781317044116


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Sacrifice has long been a topic of interest to scholars in the humanities and social sciences, including anthropologists, and it continues to be an authoritative category in contemporary individual and communal experience. As such, it is a useful analytic category for students of human culture. Sacrifice appears as cultural phenomena in various forms: material sacrifice, internalized sacrifice (via bodily and mental disciplines), and symbolic sacrifice, to name a few. Because of its multiple dimensions and forms, and because sacrifice is often linked intimately with authoritative figures, textual traditions, ritual practices, theological or philosophical systems, and socio-economic structures, sacrifice has also been the focus of extensive theorizing. Certain themes and approaches have dominated this theorizing and shaped the body of scholarship frequently referenced today. First, scholarship on material sacrifice has tended to focus on animal (including human) offerings, paying relatively little attention to other sacrificial substances (grain, fruit, and vegetable offerings; liquid offerings such as wine, milk, and ghee; and manufactured offerings such as scarves). Second, as a result of this focus on animal offering substances, interpreters have tended to highlight certain sacrificial procedures above others. Specifically, they have emphasized the death of animal victims, with particular attention to bloody, violent deaths. Finally, sacrificial theorizing has been viewed largely through a Western European Protestant Christian lens, which forefronts concerns about atonement and substitutionary death. This perspective has led to an emphasis on death and killing as the key functions and goals of sacrifice, and an inordinate emphasis on violence.

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