Sacrifice/Human Sacrifice in Religious Traditions

Davíd Carrasco

in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199759996
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Sacrifice/Human Sacrifice in Religious Traditions

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  • Religion
  • Religious Studies
  • Comparative Religion



This chapter presents a survey of several contemporary, major definitions of sacrifice as forms of symbolic and performative violence. A modest discussion of patterns in the sacrifices of animals and their symbols in various traditions is reported. The chapter then turns to an interpretation of the more troubling topic of actual human sacrifices in various cultures. The role of emotion and aggression in sacrifice appears in a number of Greek rituals and cultural expressions. Human sacrifice has been practiced in Mesoamerica for over 1500 years. It has increased, and the amount of territory controlled in Mesoamerica has increasingly expounded, assuring a tremendous growth in tributary payments to the capital and its royal families. The Mesoamerican religious traditions did not only seek substitutes for human “debt payments” or sublimate in rituals their aggressive drives toward humans in ways that eliminated human sacrifice, as many other peoples did.

Keywords: human sacrifice; Mesoamerica; emotion; aggression; performative violence; symbolic violence; Mesoamerican religious traditions; debt payments

Article.  8494 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Religious Studies ; Comparative Religion

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