Purity and Danger
|Purity and Danger|
|Original title||Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo|
|Publisher||Routledge and Keegan Paul|
|Preceded by||The Lele of the Kasai|
|Followed by||Natural Symbols|
|Part of a series on|
|Social and cultural anthropology|
Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (first published 1966) is the best known book by the influential anthropologist and cultural theorist Mary Douglas. In 1991 the Times Literary Supplement listed it as one of the hundred most influential non-fiction books published since 1945. It has gone through numerous reprints and re-editions (1969, 1970, 1978, 1984, 1991, 2002). In 2003 a further edition was brought out as volume 2 in Mary Douglas: Collected Works (isbn 0415291054).
The line of inquiry in Purity and Danger traces the words and meaning of dirt in different contexts. What is regarded as dirt in a given society is any matter considered out of place (Douglas takes this lead from William James). She attempts to clarify the differences between the sacred, the clean and the unclean in different societies and times. Through a complex and sophisticated reading of ritual, religion and lifestyle she challenges Western ideas of pollution, making clear how the context and social history is essential.
In Purity and Danger, Douglas first proposed that the kosher laws were not, as many believed, either primitive health regulations or randomly chosen as tests of Jews' commitment to God. Instead, Douglas argued that the laws were about symbolic boundary-maintenance. Prohibited foods were those that did not seem to fall neatly into any category. For example, pigs' place in the natural order was ambiguous because they shared the cloven hoof of the ungulates, but did not chew cud.
Later in a 2002 preface to Purity and Danger, Douglas went on to retract her initial explanation of the kosher rules, saying that it had been "a major mistake." Instead, she proposed that "the dietary laws intricately model the body and the altar upon one another" as of land animals, Israelites were only allowed to eat animals that were also allowed to be sacrificed: animals that depend on herdsmen. Thus, Douglas concludes that animals that are abominable to eat are not in fact impure at all, rather, that "it is abominable to harm them," and that later interpreters (even later Biblical authors) had misunderstood this. Douglas also makes it clear in Purity and Danger that she does not endeavour to judge religions as pessimistic or optimistic in their understanding of purity or dirt as positive (dirt affirming) or otherwise.
- Edwin Ardener in Man, New Series, 2:1 (1967), p. 139.
- Melford Spiro in American Anthropologist, New Series, 70:2 (1968), pp. 391–393.
- William McCormack in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 6:2 (1967), pp. 313–314.
- Joseph B. Tamney in Sociological Analysis, 28:1 (1967), pp. 56–57.
- Phillip R. Kunz in Review of Religious Research, 10:2 (1969), pp. 114–115.
- Albert James Bergesen, review essay in American Journal of Sociology, 83:4 (1978), pp. 1012–1021 (also dealing with Douglas's later book, Natural Symbols).
- P. H. Gulliver in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 30:2, Fiftieth Anniversary Volume (1967), pp. 462–464.
- Richard Fardon, Mary Douglas: An Intellectual Biography (London: Routledge, 1999), ch. 4.