Sacrifice and Education – Part II

| June 8, 2010

Yesterday’s post on dangerous T-shirts, academic bloodletting, and sacrifice continues…

I’ve jumped ahead in Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function, to the “function” part, which seems to me particularly provocative for thinking about education.

Hubert and Mauss, after sketching out the general schema of sacrifice, point out that this can be combined in any number of different ways to effect different functions. They walk through several, and rather than try to bridge these to educational strategies, I will just leave them to tantalize a bit.

  • Sacralization: sacrifice in which the sacrifier (the vested interest, as it were, of the sacrifice), does not initially have sacred status. The sacrifice is thus designed to invest or impart the sacred to them. Initiation and ordination. Here the “ceremonies of introduction are necessarily very much elaborated” but closure is reduced or may even disappear entirely.
  • Expiation: here the sacrifier already has a sacred character, but has developed “impurities” that must be expelled. “The sinner, just like the criminal, is a sacred being.” In this case, the sacred is passed not from victim to sacrifier, but from sacrifier to victim, and thus expelled. Demons begone! The site is often on the periphery, and the emphasis is on rites of exit and closure.
  • Desacralization: Actually the above example is the negative pole of a larger function that can apply just as well to the problem of too much Mojo. (That’s a technical term.) “Things, like persons, may be in a state of such great sanctity that because of it they become unusable and dangerous.” Thus sacrifice becomes sort of a sacred release valve to blow off excess pressure.

The chapter mysteriously ends there, pointing to the complex nature of these workings and how they can be combined in any number of forms. We are left, it seems, to ourselves to figure out any number of other possible combinations. (Although the next chapter, “How the Scheme Varies According to the Special Functions of the Sacrifice,” appears promising.)

For now, though, the question would be: can we imagine where these functions show up in the rituals of education? And what further combinations might we add?