Book: Philosophy and the End of Sacrifice
This volume addresses the means and ends of sacrificial speculation by inviting a selected group of specialist in the fields of philosophy, history of religions, and indology to examine philosophical modes of sacrificial speculation — especially in Ancient India and Greece — and consider the commonalities of their historical raison d’être. Scholars have long observed, yet without presenting any transcultural grand theory on the matter, that sacrifice seems to end with (or even continue as) philosophy in both Ancient India and Greece. How are we to understand this important transformation that so profoundly changed the way we think of religion (and philosophy as opposed to religion) today? Some of the complex topics inviting closer examination in this regard are the interiorisation of ritual, ascetism and self-sacrifice, sacrifice and cosmogony, the figure of the philosopher-sage, transformations and technologies of the self, analogical reasoning, the philosophy of ritual, vegetarianism, and metempsychosis.
The first section of the volume, “Historical and Comparative Approaches to Ritual Thought in Ancient India and Archaic Greece,” is devoted to changes in religious behaviour and the place of sacrifice in early Indian intellectual history. Instead of searching for origins and closures, the individual contributions rather attempt to map changes, and sometimes to catalogue the complexity in thinking and acting that comes to light in the early Indian material. What becomes clear then, instead of a simple one-way causality between thought and performance, is an ongoing transformation mediated by both intellectual activity and ritual reflexivity. Beginnings and ends in this sense never actually take place as clearly definable moments in time. The precarious act of historical and/or logical comparison can of course not be disregarded in this connection,because the terminology underlying one’s research is always confronted with the general problem of translation.
The themes forming the backbone of the book’s midsection, “Ritual Thought in Late Antiquity,” are all grounded in textual sources from Late Antiquity, such as the Corpus Hermeticum, the Nag Hammadi texts, and the letters of Paul. As will become clear, however, they also point in quite different directions, both spatial and temporal, by evoking ancient Egyptian material, ethnographic comparanda and 20th century philosophy.
The last section, “Repercussions of Sacrifice in Western Philosophy,” closes the historical circuit by addressing the continuation of sacrificial themes in contemporary continental philosophy.