Discourse and the Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth, Ritual, and Classification

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9780195057577: Discourse and the Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth, Ritual, and Classification

In this bold theoretical work, Bruce Lincoln explores the ways in which myth, ritual, and classification hold human societies together--and how, in times of crisis, they can be used to take a society apart and reconstruct it. Without overlooking the role of coercive force in the maintenance (or overthrow) of social structures, Lincoln argues his thesis with compelling illustrations drawn from such diverse areas as Platonic philosophy, the Upanishads of India, African rituals of kingship, ancient Celtic banquets, English gentlemen's clubs, the Iranian Revolution, the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, professional wrestling, and the Spanish Civil War.
Professional wrestling, Lincoln shows, can be viewed as a drama of classification in which the American dream of opportunity is set forth, challenged, and finally firmly reestablished in good-versus-evil encounters between wrestlers categorized by their relative "Americanness." The exhumation of nuns' mummified corpses by leftist forces and their sympathizers during the Spanish Civil War, often dismissed by liberal historians as an embarrassing aberration, is more readily understandable as a ritual in which the Spanish Catholic Church, which had long played the role of "the religion of the status quo," was symbolically exposed as corrupt in both a moral and concretely physiological sense.
Discourse and the Construction of Society draws on work in the fields of history, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, classics, indology, and semiotics to demonstrate the multiple uses of myth, ritual, and symbolic classification in effecting ideological persuasion and evoking the sentiments that bind people to one another within distinct social groupings while separating them from others, who are thereby defined as outsiders. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary study provides challenging new insights into the complex dynamics of social cohesion and change.

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About the Author:


About the Author:
Bruce Lincoln is Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies and a co-founder of the Program in Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society at the University of Minnesota. He has published four other books, including Priests, Warriors, and Cattle: A Study in the Ecology of Religions, which won the American Council of Learned Societies Prize as Best New Book in History of Religions in 1981.

Review:

"I read Bruce Lincoln's Discourse and the Construction of Society with pleasure and profit; he has the art of stating complicated ideas plainly without simplifying them, and the gift for finding telling examples; together these two qualities make his book engaging--and also useful. It is a kind of kit for thinking about society."--James Redfield, University of Chicago

"Offers a perspective on how different processes of orally delivered discourse can be used for the creation, maintenance, or disintegration of society. It raises our consciousness of the power of discourse, not only as narrative that informs but also as polemic that can create and destroy."--Oral History

"Lincoln's works always bring a breath of fresh air, and this one no exception....His use and treatment of a multiplicity of fields make his work relevant to many disciplines, including the history of religions, anthropology, sociology, political science, and semiotics. Highly recommended."--Religious Studies Review

"Discourse and the Construction of Society is a helpful monkey wrench for canonbusters, cultural and political activists, and other demystifiers of dominant discourse. In this cross-disciplinary study...Lincoln...examines the role of symbolic discourse and its ugly cousin, force, in constructing society."--Voice Literary Supplement

"The book's heterogeneity is vivid and its author adroit--his sense of loose links among rituals of resistance from highbrow politics and lowbrow media events alike should make good classroom fare."--American Anthropologist

"Lincoln's splendidly eclectic cultural critique unveils both the conceptual rigidity and the flexible uses of classification in social and political life....An exemplary achievement, arrayed in arrestingly lucid prose."--Michael Herzfeld, Choice

"Deserves to be widely read by people interested in social history."--Journal of Social History

"A masterful and imaginitive argument for the centrality of symbolic action in modern societies."--P. Manning, Michigan State University

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