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Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity
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Book description

Roy Rappaport argues that religion is central to the continuing evolution of life, although it has been been displaced from its original position of intellectual authority by the rise of modern science. His book, which could be construed as in some degree religious as well as about religion, insists that religion can and must be reconciled with science. Combining adaptive and cognitive approaches to the study of humankind, he mounts a comprehensive analysis of religion's evolutionary significance, seeing it as co-extensive with the invention of language and hence of culture as we know it. At the same time he assembles the fullest study yet of religion's main component, ritual, which constructs the conceptions which we take to be religious and has been central in the making of humanity's adaptation. The text amounts to a manual for effective ritual, illustrated by examples drawn from anthropology, history, philosophy, comparative religion, and elsewhere.


‘Once in a great while there appears a book that alters the dimensions of the intellectual field to which it speaks. This is such a book. In it, the author marshals insights drawn from ethnography and ecology, the cybernetics of communication, comparative religion and semiotics to establish the centrality of ritual for what it means to be human. In clear and elegant prose, Roy Rappaport calls into question many of the ways we think about the world. The result is an intellectual adventure of the first magnitude’

Eric Wolf

’Roy Rappaport’s book is an admirable blend of rich information and analytical power. It is a committed and challenging reflection on the importance of religion and the constructive power of rituals for a post-modern world, seen in the light of it pre-modern and modern history. A courageous work in a period of over specialized scholarship, I have never read such a comprehensive and penetrating treatise on rituals.’

Hans Kung - Universität Tubingen

‘Invoking concepts from fields as diverse as speech-acts theory and cybernetics, Rappaport constructs one of the fullest and richest theories of ritual to be found … Roy Rappaport writes with both clarity and passion … the grandeur of Rappaport’s effort to demonstrate the centrality of ritual and of religion is most impressive.’

Source: The Times Literary Supplement

‘This is a massive volume, full of great philosophical complexity and possibly the most detailed epistemological analysis of the phenomenon of rituals.’

Source: Cambridge Archaeological Journal

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