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Creation of the Sacred


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Table of Contents

Preface Culture in a Landscape: Situating Religion Beyond Culture Sociobiology? A Common World: Reduction and Validation Escape and Offerings Finger Sacrifice Biology, Fantasy, and Ritual Castration and Circumcision Scapegoats Life for Life The Core of a Tale "Caught up in Tales" The Propp Sequence: The Quest From Biological Programs to Semantic Chains The Shaman's Tale The Initiation Tale: The Maiden's Tragedy Hierarchy The Awareness of Rank Rituals of Submission The Strategy of Praise Two-Tiered Power The Language of Power: The Envoy Guilt and Causality Religious Therapy and the Search for Guilt Present Sufferings The Foundation of Cults The Mediators: Risks and Opportunities Explanatory Models: Fetters, Wrath, Pollution The Reciprocity of Giving Le don in Perspective Giving in Religion Genealogy of Morality? Failing Reciprocity: Religious Criticism Failing Reciprocity: The Facts of Ritual Gift and Sacrifice Aversion and Offerings: From Panic to Stability The Validation of Signs: A Cosmos of Sense Accepting Signs: Divination Decision through Signs: The Ordeal Creating Signs: Territory and Body Language Validated: The Oath Conclusion Abbreviations Notes Bibliography Index

About the Author

Walter Burkert was Professor Emeritus of Classics, University of Zurich.


Like earlier works (e.g., Greek Religion (LJ 9/1/85) from the well-respected Burkert, this book uses ancient religions to learn more about what is fundamental in all religions today, but it also looks at animal behavior as a potential signpost as to why human religion is structured as it is and why it is common to all human development. Burkert postulates that basic animal instincts may underlie sacrifice, rituals of hierarchy, the idea of guilt, and even gift exchange. He does not say that the religions that developed were preordained in a Kantian sense but that they were likely outcomes of biological tendencies. To support this thesis, he demonstrates themes that are common across various religions and then presents a biological parallel. Burkert presents a very interesting, if not convincing, history of religious practice. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.‘Eric D. Albright, Galter Health Sciences Lib., Northwestern Univ., Chicago

Walter Burkert is...a scholar of great distinction. He is also a man of remarkably wide interests. Works of his that have already been published in translation by American university presses cover matters as various as the anthropology of ancient Greek sacrificial ritual and myth, ancient mystery cults, and the penetration of Near Eastern religions into archaic Greece...The aim of Creation of the Sacred is even more ambitious: to uncover the very origins of religion... Meaninglessness is in the long run intolerable: if that is how the world is, people are impelled to pretend otherwise. That is Burkert's central theme, and his treatment of it is immensely impressive. As a study of the various ways in which human beings have, by their religious beliefs, attitudes, and behavior, endowed the world with meaning and imposed order on chaos, Creation of the Sacred is a triumph. -- Norman Cohn New York Review of Books This book is a brilliant comparative account of the social and biological functions of religion throughout human history; philosophically, scientifically, and historically interesting. Choice In general terms, Burkert's work reminds us that, through most of history, religion has had less to do with the dismantling than with the erection of boundaries; less with peace than with violence; less with 'spirituality' than with the efforts to manage physical reality...A lack of interest in ancient Greek or Near Eastern religions is no excuse for ignoring Burkert's work. Reading Creation of the Sacred and his earlier books, scholars...will realize the extent to which a combination of old-fashioned massive learning, a healthy disregard for disciplinary boundaries, and, last but not least, the willingness to go against fashions, is likely to illuminate the problem of the origin and functions of religion. -- Gustavo Benavides Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion [A] dazzling display of textual learning and an intellectually stimulating look at the universal phenomena of religion through the lenses of sociobiology and ancient Mediterranean religions. America [Creation of the Sacred] is an architectonic text, an impressive attempt to construct a credible natural theology through a detailed and rational study of religious phenomenology in classical antiquity. Using examples from ancient religions, Burkert speculates that rudimentary animal impulses may underlie the entire history of religious practice. Focusing on sacrifice, rituals of escape, the concept of guilt and punishment, the notion of a cosmic hierarchy, and the practice of gift exchange, he argues that all religions are the consequence of biological tendencies. -- Darren Middleton Southern Humanities Review [A] fascinating exploration based on a lifetime's learning. -- Andro Linklater The Spectator Like most of Burkert's books, stimulating in its ideas and engaging it its style, Creation of the Sacred attempts to trace the origins of religion back to behavior patterns of our simian ancestors. -- John E. Ziolkowski Classical World Walter Burkert, in Creation of the Sacred...boldly challenges the nature/culture standoff and brings biological research to bear on religious belief and cult: provocative, compressed and telling. -- Marina Warner Times Literary Supplement I have got much pleasure and much profit from the study of [Burkert's] deeply learned and intelligent book. -- Hugh Lloyd-Jones Times Literary Supplement [A] wide-ranging and elegantly written book. Washington Post Book World Why does [religion] exist? With Creation of the Sacred, the distinguished historian of ancient religion Walter Burkert... joins the impressive ranks of scholars who have addressed the question. Unlike most of the others, though, he believes that the perspective of contemporary evolutionary biology can sharpen the questions and illuminate the issues. He is right. Dozens of insights leap from the pages of this fascinating book, arresting observations that cut across the standard banalities. -- Daniel C. Dennett The Sciences Remarkable...Burkert

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