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Eroticism, violence, and sacrifice: A postmodern theory of religion and ritual

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

A fascinating and controversial theory of religion and ritual is offered by Georges Bataille, an influential French postmodern thinker and writer In his collected works he suggests that religion, which he identifies with the sacred, can best be understood by the interconnections and workings of eroticism, violence, and sacrifice. The key to understanding Bataille's theory is to focus on his concept of eroticism, which was one of his life-long obsessions. According to Bataille, a common feature of eroticism, sacrifice, and religion is violence which represents a danger to overflow at anytime. If eroticism opens the way to death, sacrifice effects it. Unable to reject violence, Bataille maintained that human beings practice both internal and external forms of violence in sacrifice. And because the love object of a sexual encounter and the victim of a sacrifice are stripped of their identity in these respective activities, there is an intimate connection between eroticism and sacrifice. Due to the fact that Bataille does not use ample examples from various religions to support his theory, this paper tests his ideas by applying them to the Sun Dance of the Sioux. This dramatic form of sacrifice enables one to recognize the many deficiencies of Bataille's theory.

Affiliations: 1: Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania


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