Handbook of Political Anthropology
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Handbook of Political Anthropology

Edited by Harald Wydra and Bjørn Thomassen

This Handbook engages the reader in the major debates, approaches, methodologies, and explanatory frames within political anthropology. Examining the shifting borders of a moving field of enquiry, it illustrates disciplinary paradigm shifts, the role of humans in political structures, ethnographies of the political, and global processes. Reflecting the variety of directions that surround political anthropology today, this volume will be essential reading to understanding the interactions of humans within political frames in a globalising world.
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Chapter 7: Politics and the permanence of the sacred

Paul Dumouchel


This chapter argues that the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ violence, which legitimates monopolies of violence in territorial states, is not based on meaning or fear but on the role of the sacred in the management of violence. The irruption of religious violence in politics is not so much a return to a form of pre-secular forms of the sacred, but rather indicates that the self-organizing mechanism of violence that gave rise to the sacred has become ineffective. In the individualist modern world violence has increasingly lost its capacity to give rise to new institutions, to new religions or new forms of social organization. The progressive disappearance of the sacred in its protective function that the state has developed to protect us against our own violence is not only an institutional challenge but also requires re-thinking the relations between citizens, states, and ethics in an increasingly borderless world.

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