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The sacrifice and the reciprocity-programme in religious rituals and in man's everyday interactions

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The sacrifice is a ritualized central structure in religious practice worldwide, but from a psychological point of view it may be much more than that. On the basis of cross-cultural, comparative, and experimental data, where 162 strangers are arranged to meet in twos without knowing that their interaction is being observed, it is argued that the sacrifice is not first and foremost a religious concept, let alone a behavioural structure primarily related to the man-god relation, but rather a key factor in man's sociality and a general evolutionary interaction unit based on a cognitive reciprocity-programme well known in animal life, from sperm whales and vampire bats to higher primates and ourselves. Furthermore, it is suggested that in our species the religious sacrifice becomes a ritualized sacred action, because this act symbolically highlights the natural reciprocity relations that have to prevail among men, if a society is to exist at all.

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