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Evil begins with the assumption that evil is a concept related to context. This means that we should not expect to find shared or similar notions of evil across cultures. Evil is contextually bound. To address this issue, this book approaches the issue not with a moralizing conception of evil, as is usually the case, but with a more global and cross-cultural definition: evil redescribed as dangers and aversions (things that cause harm, things to avoid). Dangers and aversions are not only cross-cultural but can readily be detected in the natural world. This heuristic definition is an excellent starting point for discussing evil in the study of religion. Redefining evil broadly as dangers and aversions allows us to redirect emphasis away from locative concepts of evil (e.g. the devil, wickedness, a diabolic will) to attitudes and practices around the world that share family resemblances (e.g. rituals of purity and impurity, notions of clean and dirty, expressions of disgust, and so on). The chapters in this book reflect on the cultural and cognitive foundations of evil (dangers and aversions) and include discussions concerning classification, myth, ritual, emotions, and morality. It concludes that our contemporary conception of evil as related to the moral domain is a social cognitive by-product of a particular historical and cultural context, a context illuminated by means of cross-cultural comparison.

Published: Oct 1, 2022


Section Chapter Authors
Chapter 1
Introduction to the Problems of Evil: Definition Kenneth MacKendrick
Chapter 2
Classification Kenneth MacKendrick
Chapter 3
Rituals and Symbols Kenneth MacKendrick
Chapter 4
Myths and Mythmaking Kenneth MacKendrick
Chapter 5
Strong Emotions Kenneth MacKendrick
Chapter 6
Morality Kenneth MacKendrick
Chapter 7
Conclusion Kenneth MacKendrick