Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


My thesis presents a significant new understanding of ‘sacrifice’ and demonstrates the applicability of a cognitive-informed approach. I begin by outlining my methodology and then discuss how 'sacrifice' has been approached by scholars up until the present day. I demonstrate the emergence of the term ‘sacrifice’ in a particular cultural milieu that is not reflective of ancient experience. I then address the issue of 'sacrifice' through the lens of the 'other', focusing specifically on Herodotus and the range of issues he does, or does not, show interest in when discussing 'barbarian' practices. I then continue to deconstruct the modern category of 'sacrifice' in my next two chapters, where I analyse the evidence for the main range of practices involving the ritual killing of animals as well as so-called 'bloodless offerings'. I demonstrate, for example, the way 'sacrifice' can be broken down into smaller elements, how difficult it is to draw simple lines between different kinds of ritual activity and how the same or similar elements are used in different contexts. I then dedicate a chapter in turn to my two main approaches: an approach based on sensory analysis and an approach based on cognitive ritual theories. These correspond to emic (insider) and etic (outsider/modern scholar) perspectives and are used to supplement each other's conclusions and mitigate each other's weaknesses. The emic perspective emphasises the largely conscious, culture-specific, sensory and purposeful whereas the etic approach highlights the mainly unconscious, cross-cultural and automatic. In both instances, however, the emphasis is on the experiential nature of 'sacrifice'. I show that ‘sacrifice' is far more complicated than has been generally understood and multiple interpretations are necessary, both traditional and cognitive. Although an appreciation of cognitive experience, emotion and sensory perception is necessary to explain ‘sacrifice’, these aspects have been largely neglected by modern scholars.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorHugh Bowden (Supervisor) & Irene Polinskaya (Supervisor)

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