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From Blessing to Violence: History and Ideology in the Circumcision Ritual of the Merina
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Author: Maurice E. F. Bloch.
Editor: Jack Goody.
ISBN-10: 0-521-31404-6 (0521314046)
ISBN-13: 978-0-521-31404-6 (9780521314046)
Language: English
No. of Pages: x + 214
Dimensions: 149mm x 229mm x 15mm

Item Identification Code (UID#): 1061
Shelving Location: Ethnography & Ethnology
Estimated Value: £10.00
Purchase Date: 9 March 2007
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From Blessing to Violence

History and Ideology in the Circumcision Ritual of the Merina

First Edition; Reprint
(Cambridge Studies in Social Anthropology)
Cambridge University Press (1989). (First Published 1986)
Softcover Book

An exploration of the circumcision ritual among the Merina ethnic group of Madagascar and its role in the context of this society.

Text from Back Cover

The circumcision ritual of the Merina of Madagascar is seen by them primarily as a blessing, involving the transfer of the love and concern of the ancestors to their descendants. Yet the ritual ends in an act of violent wounding of the child. Similarly, while the ritual involves a symbolic assault on women, it is nonetheless welcomed by them as a mark of receiving the blessing of the ancestors. In this book, Maurice Bloch provides a detailed description and analysis of the Merina circumcision ritual today, offers an account of its history, and discusses the significance of his analysis for anthropological theories of ritual in general.

Pursuing the theme of the combination of religious joy and illumination with violence, Professor Bloch explains how, at various times, the circumcision ceremony can be a familial ritual as well as a glorification of a militarist and expansionist state, or associated with anti-colonial nationalism. Describing changes that have occurred in the form of the ritual over two centuries, Professor Bloch argues that in order to understand the properties of ritual in general, it is necessary to view it over a longer time scale than anthropologists have tended to do previously. Adopting such an historical perspective enables him to identify the stability of the Merina ritual's symbolic content, despite changes in its organization, and dramatically changing politico-economic contexts.

As well as presenting an original historical approach to the anthropological study of ritual, Professor Bloch discusses a range of general theoretical issues, including the nature of ideology, and the relationship between images created in ritual and other types of knowledge. The book will appeal widely to scholars and students of anthropology, history. African studies, and comparative religion.


  • Contents
  • Preface
  • 1. The social determination of ritual
  • 2. Background politico-religious history of the Merina, 17701970
  • 3. Background to Merina social organisation and religion
  • 4. Description and preliminary analysis of a circumcision ritual
  • 5. The symbolism of circumcision
  • 6. The myth of the origin of circumcision
  • 7. The history of the circumcision
  • 8. The circumcision ritual in history: towards a theory of the transformation of ideology
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index


  • Cover design by Margaret Downing.

Condition of Item

Very Good. Small tear to upper end of spine.

Refer to the glossary for definitions of terms used to describe the condition of items.


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