Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology

Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology

Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology

Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology

Synopsis

Natural Symbols is a book about religion and it concerns our own society at least as much as any other. It has new insights into religious and political movements and has provoked re-appraisals of current progressive orthodoxies in many fields.

Excerpt

Natural Symbols was an immediate follow-up on Purity and Danger and, as a product of the 1960s, the sense of urgency, the desire to join an intensely exciting worldwide conversation, shows. That was twenty-five years ago, and rereading it now I discover the mine of ideas that I have been quarrying for practically everything that I have written since. So I am grateful to Routledge for deciding to reprint it and glad to have the chance to write a new introduction. I should add however that the diagrams I used seem very complicated now: later versions are much simpler. Whom should I imagine myself now to be addressing? Any one who is interested in ritual, anyone interested in theology, in shifting values, or stable values, in personal identity, or in history. I still would like to persuade them not to try to do their work without establishing a basis for comparisons.

So many things have changed since 1970. In the 1960s it was understood that social anthropology would have to be comparativist or nothing. Obviously a method would be necessary to avoid subjective bias. Anyone writing about emotions needs to establish the basis for their comparisons, lest they fall into the trap of being surprised that Frenchmen talk French. This is Joyce Carey’s phrase, worth quoting, from the novel Prisoner of Grace (1952):

You would say he was a sentimental man, and so he was, but so were most young men in those days. They would cry like fountains at a play called East Lynne when a little boy died. Of course, it is sad when little children die, I mean permanently sad; and so I can see why young people nowadays laugh at plays like East Lynne—they don’t want to lose their dignity. But I think they ought to excuse men like Jim for crying, for, after

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