978-0-231-11876-7 / 9780231118767



Publisher:Columbia University Press



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About the book:

Our world is steeped in attitudes and concepts derived from a sacred worldview, and this book helps us understand why. Alain Cabantous shows that blasphemy is a battlefield where religious dogma and secular rule clash, with their respective agents (the priest and the judge) competing for the proper reaction to a variety of curses.

The book takes us on a journey through the Christian West with braggarts, craftsmen, soldiers, sailors, and their coarse, forbidden exchanges. More than simply an exhaustive inventory of the uses of and bans on blasphemy, the book is a lively analysis of the relationship between the blasphemer, the machinery of language, and that of repression.

Beginning with a review of acts and crimes of blasphemy in biblical times, including the second commandment's injunction against taking God's name in vain, Cabantous reviews the close relationship between religious authority and royal authority in the sixteenth century, when the king ruled by divine right and attacks against God were implicit attacks on the nature of kingship. Punishing blasphemy was a way for the king to rule as God's representative and an occasion for the church to take control of language. The narrative continues with an exploration of acts of blasphemy, as well as related acts of desecration and profanation, which were regarded as civil and religious offenses up to the French Revolution of 1789 and afterward. The book then explores blasphemy through the mid-nineteenth century, when Catholic opponents of the French Revolution claimed that revolution itself was a blasphemy and a profanation.

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