Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

How does Mary Douglas define taboos in Purity and Danger?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas defines taboos as a central element of religion, morality, and society. Unlike other anthropologists who look at taboos as "alien and irrational," Douglas sees these prohibitions to protect purity as natural and common.

Some cultures have attached the ideas of holiness to taboos, labeling people or things as taboo that are unholy in some way. While some anthropologists argue that the failure to distinguish between "holiness and pollution" is an indication of savagery, fear, or mere arbitrariness, Douglas argues that ideas about purity and the taboos that come with them are actually more about the human need for order and people's desire to avoid things that are strange and outside their normal systems. These outliers are viewed as dangerous in some way, and people fear the consequences that may come from them.

Douglas adds that even modern society has its taboos, only we identify them as merely good hygiene. Overall, she is quite sympathetic to the ideas of purity and taboos, for they have long been a part of normal human thought and behavior and always will be.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial