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Entropy, Sacrifice and Lévi-Strauss’s Dismissal of Ritual

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract Lévi-Strauss’s scientism positions structuralism midway between information theory and semiotics, a limitation that appears most clearly in his treatment of ritual. At specific junctures Lévi-Strauss could have taken his research more towards semiotics, but opted to hew closely to the information paradigm. Phenomena of ritual repetition, redundancy and the extreme case of sacrificial destruction can only be treated as instances of inefficiency and unrecuperated waste from the perspective of information theory. After exploring the factors that led Lévi-Strauss to dismiss ritual as a legitimate topic of structuralist analysis, this essay retools analytical resources developed from Mauss to Bataille that Lévi-Strauss ignored. As binary oppositions and conceptual exclusions give way to immanent networks of relational structures, the paradigmatically excluded topics of ritual and sacrifice help to bridge the gap between the structuralist approaches that Lévi-Strauss developed and other resources in semiotic theory.

Affiliations: 1: College of Arts and Sciences, Lewis and Clark College Portland, Oregon USA


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