paper 1 final - Balloga 1 Abram Balloga Paper Topic#1 Mary...

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Balloga, 1 Abram Balloga Paper Topic #1 Mary Douglas’ Purity and Danger 9/14/2006 Ignorance of Ourselves In her revolutionary book, Purity and Danger , Mary Douglas illustrates how anthropologists can discover much more by first looking inward on their own culture rather than critiquing others. She shows error in the conclusions of others who use their own modern situation as a platform from which to explore other ways of life. The correct angle of study is to consider all humans, since we are the same, as societies evolving by similar stimuli which vary because of the different habitats we live in. Douglas’ thesis describes how taboos are established due to a pan-human aversion to matter out of place. The sum of these taboos, can help construct and maintain the identity of a community. The argument is contrary to many anthropological works at the time, so she is very thorough in qualifying her points, giving many relevant examples. The author begins her fight with a discussion of William Robertson Smith, who she considers the founder of social anthropology (Douglas, 17). As a prominent pioneer in his field, Smith’s ideas were influential and considered correct by most who followed in his footsteps. Douglas believes that from the beginning, Smith’s path was flawed and his work has contaminated the study of primitive religions with a basic attitude of contempt. “Customs which have not fed into the growing points of human history he dubbed irrational and primitive and implied that they were of little interest” (Douglas, 17). Smith declared a distinction between ethical and magical rituals. Those considered ethical are functional in bringing a society together for a greater harmony under a shared concept of morality. Rituals defined as magical are empty witch-craft, performed in
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Balloga, 2 hopes of harnessing or pleasing some cosmic power in order to solve a problem or fulfill a desire of the people. Smith finds the ethical more advanced and valuable, while he associates the magical more closely with an image of moral-less, ignorant savages.
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