1st Edition

Cosmologies of Pure Realms and the Rhetoric of Pollution

By Yohan Yoo, James W. Watts Copyright 2021
    178 Pages
    by Routledge

    178 Pages
    by Routledge

    This collaboration between two scholars from different fields of religious studies draws on three comparative data sets to develop a new theory of purity and pollution in religion, arguing that a culture’s beliefs about cosmological realms shapes its pollution ideas and its purification practices.

    The authors of this study refine Mary Douglas’ foundational theory of pollution as "matter out of place," using a comparative approach to make the case that a culture’s cosmology designates which materials in which places constitute pollution. By bringing together a historical comparison of Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean religions, an ethnographic study of indigenous shamanism on Jeju Island, Korea, and the reception history of biblical rhetoric about pollution in Jewish and Christian cultures, the authors show that a cosmological account of purity works effectively across multiple disparate religious and cultural contexts. They conclude that cosmologies reinforce fears of pollution, and also that embodied experiences of purification help generate cosmological ideas.

    Providing an innovative insight into a key topic of ritual studies, this book will be of vital interest to scholars and graduate students in religion, biblical studies, and anthropology.


    1 Finding realms: Purity and pollution in theory and practice

    Yohan Yoo and James W. Watts

    2 Changing realms: Cosmology and pollution in ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures

    Yohan Yoo and James W. Watts

    3 Separating realms: Purity and pollution in the indigenous religion of Jeju-do, Korea

    Yohan Yoo

    4 Interpreting realms: Pollution and cosmology in the history of biblical rhetoric

    James W. Watts

    5 Feeling realms: Cosmology and bodily experiences of purity and pollution

    James W. Watts And Yohan Yoo


    Index of authors and shamans

    Index of Subjects


    Yohan Yoo is Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies in the College of Humanities at Seoul National University, Korea.

    James W. Watts is Professor in the Department of Religion of the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University, USA.