Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology

Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology

Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology

Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology

Synopsis

One of the most important works of modern anthropology. Written against the backdrop of the student uprisings of the late 1960s, the book took seriously the revolutionary fervour of the times, but instead of seeking to destroy the rituals and symbols that can govern and oppress, Mary Douglas saw instead that if transformation were needed, it could only be made possible through better understanding. Expressed with clarity and dynamism, the passionate analysis which follows remains one of the most insightful and rewarding studies of human behaviour ever written.

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):

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