In the West we are accustomed to think of religion as centered in the personal quest for salvation or the longing for unchanging Being. Perhaps this is why we have found it so difficult to understand the religions of Africa. These religions are oriented to very different goals: fecundity, prosperity, health, social harmony. These seemingly trivial and specific goals are not the expressions of inauthentic or undeveloped religion, as we tend to think, but of a distinctive and profound spiritual perspective from which, in fact, we may have much to learn.
African religions, as this study concludes from its close examination of a number of specific African universes, are religions devoted to the sanctification and constant renewal of life. They are dedicated to Becoming rather than to Being, and seek to sustain a flourishing divine order rather than save the isolated self from it. But these religions do not comfortably express themselves in metaphysical abstractions; instead, they use a ritual idiom more effective than any philosophical disquisition.
Ritual Cosmos analyzes the logic and inner meaning of such ritual structures as sacrifice and taboo, harvest festivals and rites of divine kingship, millenary movements, witchcraft, and much else. In the course of the discussion, many of the basic assumptions of the scientists and theologians who have concerned themselves with the role of religion in human society are reexamined; the distinctions often made between the sacred and the secular, or religion and magic, for example, are questioned.
Evan M. Zuesse has conducted field research on Australian Aborigine religions and since writing Ritual Cosmos has published on a wide range of topics in Ritual Studies, particularly on Jewish ritual and worldview.
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