Polygamy: A Cross-Cultural Analysis

Polygamy: A Cross-Cultural Analysis

Polygamy: A Cross-Cultural Analysis

Polygamy: A Cross-Cultural Analysis

Synopsis

Forms of plural marriage, or polygamy, are practiced within most of the world's cultures and religions. The amazing variation, versatility and adaptability of polygamy underscore that it is not just an exotic non-Western practice, but also exists in modern Western societies. Polygamy: A Cross-cultural Analysis provides an examination and analysis of historical and contemporary polygamy. It outlines polygamy's place in anthropological theory and its rich sociocultural diversity in countries ranging from the USA and UK to Malaysia, India, regions of Africa and Tibet. Polygamy also addresses often difficult and controversial issues facing modern polygamists, such as prejudice, HIV/AIDS and women's emancipation. Polygamy: A Cross-cultural Analysis offers an anthropological overview of the fascinating yet often misunderstood institution of polygamy.

Excerpt

This book is an ethnography of polygamy with a cross-cultural scope. Polygamy is the practice whereby a person is married to more than one spouse at the same time, as opposed to monogamy, where a person has only one spouse at a time. In principle, there are three forms of polygamy: polygyny, in which one man is married to several wives; polyandry, where one woman is married to several husbands; and group marriage, in which several husbands are married to several wives, i.e. some combination of polygyny and polyandry. This broad definition is based on the etymology of the word polygamy, which contains polys (= many) and gamos (= marriage). Polygamy literally means 'often married' in Late Greek.

During the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, UT, in 2002, Mormon polygamy grabbed the headlines because an advertising campaign for a new beer named Polygamy Porter had offended members of the Mormon faith. In the state of Utah, in Southwest USA, 70 per cent of the population are Mormon, and officially monogamous. But the Wasatch Beers Company played on deep-seated American stereotypes linking Mormons with polygamy to promote its new product. The beer label featured a man with several women along with the inscription 'Why have just one'. The advertising slogan urged buyers to bring some home 'for the wives'. Mormons were not amused, but the brewery countered that since the Mormon Church is officially against polygamy, it had not anticipated that the campaign would offend. It had been more concerned about the risk of targeting minors, since 'so many polygamists marry under-age girls', a barbed reference to arrests of Mormons accused of marrying and having sexual relations with very young girls. The furore over the beer illustrates the peculiar circumstances surrounding contemporary Mormon polygamy: officially banned by the Mormon Church, but still practised by small groups of Mormon fundamentalists, and thus still associated with Mormonism by the American public. The fact that Mormons reacted angrily to the commercial reinforced non-Mormon beliefs that Mormons still endorse polygamy even though it is illegal, whereas mainstream Mormons felt targeted once more by a resentful American public who will not acknowledge that Mormons have rejected the practice over 100 years ago.

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