Ancient Rites and Ceremonies – Grace A. Murray

Ancient Rites and Ceremonies
Grace A. Murray
Senate, 1996
256 pages

I dearly hope that no one ever actually uses this book as a serious source of anything but examples of Anglo-centric anthropology. I originally picked it up in the hopes that it would be a treatise on religious rites of various cultures. Instead, what I got was a book full of horribly condescending discussion of a number of cultures’ practices, few of them religious in nature. There’s a definite tabloid feel to the whole thing, given that the author focused largely on such scandalous topics as cannibalism and foreign sexual practices.

This book was written in 1929, and it’s a perfect example of WASPish prejudice presented as scholarship. Everyone from South Africans to Scandinavians are thoroughly stereotyped and judged against the standards of the writer (who I assume was British). I did get occasional glimpses at her attempts to make the place of women a little more proud, explaining that in certain socieities where women did most of the work, they were exceptionally important.

After the first few pages I read this primarily for the entertainment value. Thankfully, while we’re far from ridding academia of prejudice, things aren’t nearly so blatant as this, and much better sources are available. There is some good information here and there, but it’s so wrapped up in crap and Western bias that as a whole it’s not worth buying it unless you find it at a seriously reduced price.

One and a half pawprints out of five.

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