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Why are perfect animals, hybrids, and monsters food for symbolic thought?

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Work on animal symbolism, in particular that of Mary Douglas, suggests that the symbolic value of some animals is grounded in taxonomic anomaly. Yet the work of ethnozoologists tends to show that folk taxonomies are consistent and devoid of true anomalies. This raises a first problem. Moreover, not only anomalous animals, but also exemplary animals often take on a symbolic value, thus raising a second problem. A solution to both problems is suggested, based on an examination of the cognitive organization of folk taxonomies, and with illustrations drawn from Ethiopian, Biblical, and Western culture.

Affiliations: 1: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Centre de Recherche en Epistémologie Appliquée, Paris


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