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Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions

Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions

by Walter Burkert
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Sacrifice--ranging from the sacrifice of virgins to circumcision to giving up what is most valued--is essential to all religions. Could there be a natural, even biological, reason for these practices? Something that might explain why religions of so many different cultures share so many rituals and concepts? In this extraordinary book, one of the world's leading authorities on ancient religions explores the possibility of natural religion--a religious sense and practice naturally proceeding from biological imperatives.

Because they lack later refinements, the earliest religions from the Near East, Israel, Greece, and Rome may tell us a great deal about the basic properties and dynamics of religion, and it is to these cultures that Walter Burkert looks for answers. His book takes us on an intellectual adventure that begins some 5,000 years ago and plunges us into a fascinating world of divine signs and omens, offerings and sacrifices, rituals and beliefs unmitigated by modern science and sophistication. Tracing parallels between animal behavior and human religious activity, Burkert suggests natural foundations for sacrifices and rituals of escape, for the concept of guilt and punishment, for the practice of gift exchange and the notion of a cosmic hierarchy, and for the development of a system of signs for negotiating with an uncertain environment. Again and again, he returns to the present to remind us that, for all our worldliness, we are not so far removed from the first Homo religiosus.

A breathtaking journey, as entertaining as it is provocative, Creation of the Sacred brings rich new insight on religious thought past and present and raises serious questions about the ultimate reasons for, and the ultimate meaning of, human religiousness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674175709
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 01/13/1998
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,200,486
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

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

Table of Contents


Culture in a Landscape: Situating Religion

Beyond Culture


A Common World: Reduction and Validation

Escape and Offerings

Finger Sacrifice

Biology, Fantasy, and Ritual

Castration and Circumcision


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


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






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Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
timspalding on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an enormously interesting book. At the same time, you can pretty much either take or leave his argument. It's highly speculative and there's little that's falsifiable.