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Queen's University
Religious Studies
RELS 331

Midterm Exam Paper – RELS 331 Frankie Tarascio, 06212494 Due: Wednesday Oct. 30, 2013 Question A: The utilization of violence relating to sacrificial ceremonies has been used throughout history in numerous ancient as well as modern religions and cultures as a means of creating human solidarity within communities. Despite each case of such violence being evident in varying time periods and in countries and cultures so far removed from one another, there exists many extremely close parallels in both the reasoning behind the violence as well as the process by which it is conducted. From such varying perspectives as those described in writing by Maurice Bloch, Nancy Jay, and Rene Girard, it can be seen that a single theory of sacrifice and how it affects religion and state can be synthesized. In each case elements of a transcendent purpose and the act of unifying a community can be identified as well as a similar methodology within the act of violence itself. All three writers acknowledge that the main objective of a ritual sacrifice in any culture is to create a sense of unity within a community, usually as a result of a crisis situation (Girard 1986). Within such communities, whether they be religious or ethnic, there exists a social order that governs everyday life. In times of such crisis as war, sickness, or environmental phenomenon, it becomes crucial to the survival of the community to come together and overcome the common “chaotic element” (Bloch 1992). The invasion of this chaotic element, as described by Bloch, Jay, and Girard, is seen as an attack on the social order of the group and becomes a threat to the vitality of the community. To counter the invasion of such a threat, sacrificial ceremonies are used as a way of engaging an intangible element in acts of external aggression and expelling the chaotic danger to social order (Bloch 1992). A sacrifice utilizes a substitute as a way of symbolizing the non-living threat and results in an invigorating sense of human solidarity that strengthens the community (Girard 1986). In the majority of cultures where sacrifice is or was practiced, the idea of transcending the realm of men to reach the divine is present (Jay 1994). Politically, the concept that those in power are the ones to conduct sacrificial ceremonies allows the general public within the community to believe that the state has a special connection to the divine and therefore political social order is maintained. As pointed out by Nancy Jay, this is predominantly true within the Christian Church. Priests are considered to have transcended to the realm of God and are therefore given the right to re-enact the sacrificial ritual of providing believers with the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The Eucharist left by the Lord is seen by Christians as the ultimate sacrifice and helps to maintain apostolic succession within the Church (Jay 1994). By comparing acts of sacrifice in varying communities, similarities in the methodology and practice of the rituals can be clearly seen. In almost all cases, a substitute is chosen such that the group can self-identify with the victim. The Dinkas rely on their belief in a close identification between human and cattle as their substitute while the Buid peoples make a similar connection between human and pigs (Bloch 1992). It could even be seen in Biblical studies in the story of Abraham and Isaac, the exchange of a lamb in the place of a child to be used in sacrifice (Jay 1994). In many cases, a second act of violence in the form of consuming the sacrifice takes place. The consumption of the sacrificed animal allows the community to acquire a new vitality and in many belief systems, take in the divine aspects of the victim as it is being surrendered to a higher power (Bloch 1992). Sacrifice, as outlined by of all three of these writers, can clearly be seen to have a multitude of similar reasoning and ritual process despite the differences in culture. The use of sacrifice as a way to bring a group together in times of need therefore appears to be a standard part of community building and the human psyche. Word Count: 664 Question B1: Othering is a key concept in any discussion relating religion and violence or even just in human violence in general. In order for ordinary humans to commit extreme acts of evil and violence towards one another, there must exist some mental separation between the aggressor and the victim so as to alleviate the aggressor’s guilt at harming one their own species. Othering can refer to any way in which a separation such as this is created, whether it be through the use of cultural differences or assignment of blame towards a particular person/people, it allows for the attacker to believe that the victim deserves to be treated violently. Othering could also be defined as the social death of a victim caused by us versus them thinking and dehumanization (Waller 2002). According to James Waller in his book Becoming Evil, the social death of a victim as a result of othering allows people to create a moral and psychological distance between them and their victim (Waller 2002). By doing this, they are no longer able to perceive the individual person and cannot sympathize with them when violent acts are being committed. The othering of a human could be broken down into three steps; creating a definite grouping and us versus them mentality, dehumanizing the victim, and assigning blame to the victim. A natural part of the human thought process is to place people into social categories by exaggerating similarities within their own group and differences in the other’s community. This is known as the accentuation effect, which makes it easier to distinguish flaws in the victim (Waller 2002). Dehumanization could be as simple as referring to a separate group in an inferior or insulting manner. This was evident in the genocide in Rwanda, when the Hutus would refer to the Tutsi people as “ingenzi”, or insects (Wielenga 2006). This use of language helps to create an image of the other as a demon or animal of some kind and makes it easier to justify acts of violence. Finally, the assignment of blame, whether warranted or not, allows
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