Cover: Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions, from Harvard University PressCover: Creation of the Sacred in PAPERBACK

Creation of the Sacred

Tracks of Biology in Early Religions

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$37.00 • £32.95 • €33.95

ISBN 9780674175709

Publication Date: 01/13/1998


272 pages

6 x 9 inches


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Walter Burkert is…a scholar of great distinction. He is also a man of remarkably wide interests. Works of his that have already been published in translation by American university presses cover matters as various as the anthropology of ancient Greek sacrificial ritual and myth, ancient mystery cults, and the penetration of Near Eastern religions into archaic Greece… The aim of Creation of the Sacred is even more ambitious: to uncover the very origins of religion… Meaninglessness is in the long run intolerable: if that is how the world is, people are impelled to pretend otherwise. That is Burkert’s central theme, and his treatment of it is immensely impressive. As a study of the various ways in which human beings have, by their religious beliefs, attitudes, and behavior, endowed the world with meaning and imposed order on chaos, Creation of the Sacred is a triumph.—Norman Cohn, The New York Review of Books

I have got much pleasure and much profit from the study of [Burkert’s] deeply learned and intelligent book.—Hugh Lloyd-Jones, The Times Literary Supplement

Remarkable… Burkert’s mastery of the material (especially from the unsystematized, and so more revealing, ancient religions of Greece, Rome and the Near East), together with his eye for detecting the same pattern in different cultures, would make this a fascinating text, even without the ethological speculations at which he is also adept… [T]he power of Burkert’s book derives from crossing boundaries between cultures and disciplines.—Richard Seaford, The Times Literary Supplement

Walter Burkert, in Creation of the Sacred…boldly challenges the nature/culture standoff and brings biological research to bear on religious belief and cult: provocative, compressed and telling.—Marina Warner, The Times Literary Supplement

[A] wide-ranging and elegantly written book.The Washington Post Book World

[A] dazzling display of textual learning and an intellectually stimulating look at the universal phenomena of religion through the lenses of sociobiology and ancient Mediterranean religions.America

[A] fascinating exploration based on a lifetime’s learning.—Andro Linklater, The Spectator

Like most of Burkert’s books, stimulating in its ideas and engaging it its style, Creation of the Sacred attempts to trace the origins of religion back to behavior patterns of our simian ancestors.—John E. Ziolkowski, Classical World

In general terms, Burkert’s work reminds us that, through most of history, religion has had less to do with the dismantling than with the erection of boundaries; less with peace than with violence; less with ‘spirituality’ than with the efforts to manage physical reality… A lack of interest in ancient Greek or Near Eastern religions is no excuse for ignoring Burkert’s work. Reading Creation of the Sacred and his earlier books, scholars…will realize the extent to which a combination of old-fashioned massive learning, a healthy disregard for disciplinary boundaries, and, last but not least, the willingness to go against fashions, is likely to illuminate the problem of the origin and functions of religion.—Gustavo Benavides, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

Why does [religion] exist? With Creation of the Sacred, the distinguished historian of ancient religion Walter Burkert…joins the impressive ranks of scholars who have addressed the question. Unlike most of the others, though, he believes that the perspective of contemporary evolutionary biology can sharpen the questions and illuminate the issues. He is right. Dozens of insights leap from the pages of this fascinating book, arresting observations that cut across the standard banalities.—Daniel C. Dennett, The Sciences

[Creation of the Sacred] is an architectonic text, an impressive attempt to construct a credible natural theology through a detailed and rational study of religious phenomenology in classical antiquity. Using examples from ancient religions, Burkert speculates that rudimentary animal impulses may underlie the entire history of religious practice. Focusing on sacrifice, rituals of escape, the concept of guilt and punishment, the notion of a cosmic hierarchy, and the practice of gift exchange, he argues that all religions are the consequence of biological tendencies.—Darren Middleton, Southern Humanities Review

This book is a brilliant comparative account of the social and biological functions of religion throughout human history; philosophically, scientifically, and historically interesting.Choice

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