Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, Rene Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation

Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, Rene Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation

Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, Rene Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation

Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, Rene Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation

Excerpt

BURTON MACK

The history of discourse on religion has consistently preferred myth to ritual as the focus of its primary questions and concerns. It is true that ritual has always been recognized as a major datum of religion, but the earlier studies of religion did not explore the behavioral, motivational, and social life of religious actions and rites. They were, instead, preoccupied with the question of the origin of belief in the gods, and the relation of mythic mentality to human intellect. Rituals were handled as myths were, that is, as expressions of belief in and encounter with divine powers or entities. The question that exercised scholars was how to account for the origin and plausibility of mythic beliefs and notions, and rituals were regarded mainly as "responses" to these "myths."

The most significant of the classical studies of ritual, in our opinion, are those that moved away from this older orientation to religion as ideation and belief. Lines can be drawn that run from W. Robertson Smith to Henri Hubert, Marcel Mauss, and Emile Durkheim on the one hand, and to Sigmund Freud on the other. This scholarship discovered the relation of religious ritual to basic human patterns of behavior and to basic human social structures, but ritual theory was not immediately advanced by this discovery. What had first to happen, apparently, was the conceptualization and implementation of the emergent human sciences: sociology, psychology, and ethnography. Hubert and Mauss, for example, expanded the dramatic aspects of W. Robertson Smith's theory of ritual and explored ritual's social function. Especially important in this regard was the new sociology of reciprocity that they developed . . .

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