Honor and Shame

John J. Pilch

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online January 2012 | | DOI:
Honor and Shame

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Anxiety, shame (along with its correlative, honor), and guilt are three control patterns of human personality that exist in all cultures. There is no honor culture, no shame culture, and no guilt culture; all cultures contain these three strategies for controlling human behavior but tend to stress one more than the others. Indeed, all three controls exist in each person, group, and culture but in varying degrees and in many different configurations. This is what anthropologists mean when they identify circum-Mediterranean cultures as characterized by honor and shame controls. These controls also characterize other small-scale, face-to-face cultures such as Asia and India. Because of this, a multidimensional systems model is necessary for studying specific honor and shame cultures. Honor is a public claim to worth or value and a public acknowledgment of that claim. Positive shame is a concern for maintaining and protecting one’s worth, value, reputation. Negative shame is the loss of one’s honor. Refusing to be concerned about one’s honor is to be shameless. Honor and shame are thus external controls on human behavior that depend upon the opinions of others. These controls stand in contrast to guilt, which is an internal control quite independent of the opinions of others. In cultures where honor and shame are the dominant controls, secrecy, deception, and lying are strategies for defending one’s reputation by seeking to influence the opinions of others. Challenge and riposte are strategies for attempting to increase honor with the risk of losing some as well. This article will discuss honor and shame as found in that Mediterranean document known as the Bible, written about Mediterranean people by Mediterraneans.

Article.  6734 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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