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Download Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo epub

by Mary Douglas

Douglas offers an approach to understanding rules of purity by examining what is considered unclean in various cultures. She sheds light on the symbolism of what is considered clean and dirty in relation to order in secular and religious, modern and primitive life.
Download Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo epub
ISBN: 0415066085
ISBN13: 978-0415066082
Category: Literature
Subcategory: History & Criticism
Author: Mary Douglas
Language: English
Publisher: Routledge USA and London; Reprint edition (1996)
Pages: 208 pages
ePUB size: 1931 kb
FB2 size: 1933 kb
Rating: 4.9
Votes: 600
Other Formats: lit mbr txt docx

Cutting through the epistemological deadlock of both Durkheimian project of defining religion and Maussian focus on manifestly religious activities such as sacrifice, Mary Douglas bring us into that fluid world of the everyday through her meditation on purity and danger. Purity and danger are two concepts one can find in any society and any culture. Purity and danger are two themes that concern everybody in one’s daily encounters, from the miraculous to the quotidian. And yet, each culture has its own taboos, its own rituals, and its own formulations of what constitutes as pure and as dangerous. As such, purity and danger carries us out of rigid metaphysical framework of what is and what is not, instead shed light on the relation of “order to disorder, being to non-being, form to formlessness, life to death” (7). In so doing, Douglas opens up a new path that integrates both explanation and understanding modes of doing anthropology.
The core of her methodological ingenuity (instead of merely choosing an interesting topic) lies in her comparative method: “In the first place we shall not expect to understand religion if we confine ourselves to considering belief in spiritual beings, however the formula may be refined… Rather than stopping to chop definitions, we should try to compare peoples’ views about man’s destiny and place in the universe. In the second place we shall not expect to understand other people’s ideas of contagion, sacred or secular, until we have confronted our own.”(35, my italic) By looking into the everyday (her first method of comparison), her meditation walks us from the mundane to the sacred and demonstrates how religion/cosmology and social order emerge from daily life and how such perceived order in turn governs one’s lived experience. By reflecting upon one’s own views (her second method of comparison), she weights both one’s own and the other’s views on the same footing. The danger of explanatory mode of scholarship lies NOT in trying to explain the Other per se but in holding oneself ABOVE the explanatory system and hence imposing one’s unexamined standards upon the Other. This mutual comparison (meaning comparison with self-reflection and subjecting oneself to the same standard as the subject being explained) reveals that understanding and explaining are co-constitutive and mutually illuminating, which enables us to move fluidly between the insider/outsider divide and bridging cultures through knowledge building.
This is one of the most famous and still relevant works about what are behind any given cultures concepts on cleanliness and impurity. Written in an accesible language so even interested laypersons can benefit from Mary Douglas' scholarly research. If you are intersted in Biblical criticism and/or anthropology - this book belongs in your bookshelf. It is simply a classic.
She has a difficult reading style to get into, but once you've been reading it for a while, it is really good and informative too.
I chose this book because I had questions regarding some of our religious traditions and the history behind them. I found this book to very helpful for my needs. I gained the insight that resolved my questions and moved me to seek additional answers to questions raised. This book lends itself to removing the vale of mystery surrounding many of practices both religiously and personally. Is this book for everybody? I think not. If you do read it I hope you will enjoy it.
I have read all of Mary Douglas' books. Her perspective is not like anyone else, and at the same time she is more insightful than 10 other writers on the same subject combined. It is a joy to wander through the streets with her as she weaves a tale about the sociology of a group or community. She is a master story teller, a great writer, and most important her insights are often genius.
At the instigation of an anthropology teacher, I read this book when I was about 19 and found it shattering and profound. Now, however, returning to it years later (and having read in the meantime dozens of books on anthropology and anthropological issues, and having thought for years about what I thought I learned in this book) I'm not so sure it's as perceptive as I thought. In other words, I think what I may have found mind-blowing in my younger years was the insights of anthropology itself -- not so much the contributions of Ms. Douglas.

Having said that, there are four or five extremely interesting observations herein that will help explain, or at least clarify, some puzzling issues: why gangs "jump" initiates, why Muslims do not permit nonbelievers to enter Mecca, why frats "haze" their new recruits, etc., although you pretty much have to fill in those blanks for yourself: Ms. Douglas does not explicitly extend her theories to cover such aspects of modern society. I used to think the book was deep; now, I think (in general) that she doesn't go far enough with her theories, instead stopping short just when things are getting interesting.

Another unfortunate aspect of this book is that the author felt it necessary, in the first few chapters, to refute previous, erroneous ideas about filth and pollution. Unfortunately, many of the theories she refers to are complicated and difficult to follow, at least before you read the rest of the book. In other words, I think she should have left that section for last, instead just launching into her conclusions directly.
This may be an entertaining book if you want to read stories of foreign cultures and habits, but I don't think it meets the scientific standards of anthropology. The subtitle of the book is "an analysis of the concepts of pollution and taboo", but this is an overstatement. You will not find any true analysis in it. Every time the author approaches an analytic question or theory, she soon lets go of her thread and diverges into another irrelevant story. While reading this book, I asked myself several times "wait a second, what does this have to do with pollution or taboo?", "what was the subject matter of this chapter again?" and "what conclusions can be drawn from all these examples?". My questions were left unanswered, so this book was a very frustrating read. It deals with an interesting topic but the author just doesn't manage to gain any interesting insights. A few disconnected thoughts scattered among colourful stories is all you get in terms of analysis. Very disappointing.
great and evoking