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Ritual Purity and the Mandaeans' Identity

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image of Iran and the Caucasus

The Mandaeans are the members of an ethno-religious group living in Iran and Iraq. The religion of the Mandaeans is a written tradition and is the main reference of their identity. As a small endogamous group under the hegemony of the non-Mandaeans and exposed to epidemics, they always have been under the threat of cultural extinction. Therefore, group identity protection has become one of their major concerns, which is reflected in their religious practice. The Mandaeans practice a doctrinal ritualistic religion with recurrence theme of purity. The doctrinal rituals allow them to transmit a large number of religious codes through generations and to re-establish their identity. Simultaneously, the obsession with bodily purity symbolically shows their preoccupation with the unity and integrity of the threatened group boundaries. Since recent decades the Mandaeans' homeland in Iran and Iraq has undergone dramatic socio-political changes caused by the Islamic Revolution of Iran and the first and second Persian Gulf Wars and their entailed instabilities. These circumstances led to the emigration of many Mandaeans to other countries and formation of Mandaean diasporas around the world. These new social conditions are making a crucial effect on the Mandaeans' religious system and identity policy. The article is based on a long-term ethnographic study on the Mandaeans of Iran.


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