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Human Sacrifice and Value

Why human sacrifice? The primary objective of the project is to generate a greater working knowledge of the nature of human sacrificial rituals as contextualised through the perspective of value. The project will forge a deeper understanding of the social mechanisms underpinning the slippery relationship between sacred acts of sacrifice and profane forms of violence.

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Description

The primary objective of the project is to generate a greater working knowledge of the nature of human sacrificial violence. By detangling the perceived value in relation to sacrificial practices, it seeks to gain deeper understandings of human social behaviours as expressed through ritual violence. The prevalence of sacrifice both in physical manifestations in ritual behaviours and at various removes of transformation in social rhetoric and mechanisms means that understanding sacrifice in its various guises give profoundly important knowledge about past and present behaviours both.

Using both qualitative humanities and quantitative scientific methodologies, an analysis of the historical record will be synthesized to provide valuable insights into contemporary social and political challenges.

The project will forge a deeper understanding of the social mechanisms underpinning the slippery relationship between sacred acts of sacrifice and profane forms of violence such as murder. It will uncover what values are at play in various human sacrificial traditions: how they emerge, are subverted and substituted over time in different contexts. Finally, it will advance development of innovative cross-cultural comparative methodologies with applications for other research projects.

About the project

This project seeks to untangle the ambiguities between sacred and profane violence by placing the question of value at the very centre of analysis of human sacrifice. What is the relative value of ritually taking an actual human life? To address this, the project approaches the question of value in two ways.

The first concerns what values are at play in human sacrifices, whether these be economic, ideological or emotional – and explores how they have been created, substituted or subverted and overturned in varied historical contexts. The aim is to understand what kinds of values serve as ends in these types of sacrifices, and how they transform over time. The variable and culturally contingent nature of value as related to human lives is also a core question. The second addresses value in relation to questions of the commensurability, or lack thereof, between different sacrificial practices.

The project develops an innovative and rigorous methodology for cross-cultural comparisons, combining both humanistic and natural sciences approaches to analysing the values attributed to human sacrifices, their possible comparability across both time and place, and any possible common patterns of value transition.

The project will be able to develop a profound understanding of the value systems involved in sacrificial violence, how these value systems are transformed, and how and why sacred human sacrifice often slips into profane forms of violence in the contemporary world (e.g., suicide bombings and willing self-sacrificial combat soldiering).

Furthermore, it will allow us to operationalize knowledge for a better understanding of the nature of sacrificial behaviours in a wider context, providing entry points to further discussing the underlying importance of sacrifice.

This will be achieved not only through the publication of peer- reviewed journal research papers, monographs and white papers reporting on and synthesizing findings, but also through a public outreach campaign in international media.

Publications

List over publications and future publications 

Core group members

Read more about the core group members
 

Tags: Human sacrifice, performative rituals, transformations
Published Jan. 10, 2019 8:18 AM - Last modified Sep. 8, 2021 12:19 PM

Contact

Norway

Denmark

  • Professor Rane Willerslev (PI), Director for the National Museum, Copenhagen, Majken.Mac@natmus.dk
  • Senior Researcher, Matthew J. Walsh, Modern History and World Cultures, National Museum of Denmark, Matthew.walsh@natmus.dk
    Previously, post-doc, Section for Numismatics and Classical Archaeology, Museum of Cultural History, Oslo University, matthew.walsh@khm.uio.no

England

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