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Sacrifice, or the Religious Mode of Production

Sacrifice, or the Religious Mode of Production

(p.98) 4 Sacrifice, or the Religious Mode of Production
Sovereignty and the Sacred
Robert A. Yelle
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 4 begins to accumulate evidence of the inability of so- called rational- choice theories, which maintain that individuals pursue individual economic interest, to account for such non-utilitarian behaviors as sacrifice. It reinterprets such behaviors as exceptions to the mundane economic order. Drawing on, among other theories, Georges Bataille’s use of sacrifice as an expression of sovereignty, it is argued that such deviations from utility, which may take the alternative forms of either excessive consumption (festivals, potlatches, and the like) or abstention from the same, often signify the independence from need and labor that links the king to the ascetic. The hierarchy and division of labor in which both the ruler and the mendicant find their place is connected with the rise of storage economies, in which surplus goods allow both wastage as a display of symbolic capital or “conspicuous consumption,” and the support of nonproducing members of the community. Expressions of sovereign independence from the mundane economy tacitly acknowledge this economy as a precondition.

Keywords:   herem, sacrifice, festival, Marcel Mauss, Georges Bataille, Thorstein Veblen, gift exchange, potlatch, rational- choice theory, asceticism

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