Sacrifice

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses
Open—Fall

This seminar explores classical Indian and Western themes of sacrifice that survive today in contemporary literature and cinema. The sacrifice of a scapegoat channels violence and legitimizes acts of killing in order to serve social interests of surrogacy and catharsis. Sacrificial practices bridge religious, political, and economic aspects of culture. As sacrament, sacrifice represents transformational mystery. As ceremonial exchange, it facilitates negotiations of status, observance of boundaries, and the redistribution of goods. In specific cultural settings, sacrifice functions as celebration, as a manifestation of goodwill, as insurance, and as a source of communion. Seminar topics include gift exchange, fasting and feasting, the warrior ethic, victimization and martyrdom, bloodletting, scarification, asceticism, and renunciation. The seminar concludes by addressing the politics of sacrifice and alterity through recent critical inquiry into: 1) sati (widow immolation) in India; 2) charity and service tourism; 3) court rituals and judicial proceedings; 4) the targeting of ethnic scapegoats in transnational politics; and 5) contemporary “bullying” incidents. Texts include Hindu liturgies, Greek tragedies, Akedah paintings, the Roman Catholic Eucharist, and selected modern literature.