1st Edition

The Dangers of Gifts from Antiquity to the Digital Age

Edited By Alexandra Urakova, Tracey A. Sowerby, Tudor Sala Copyright 2023
    268 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    268 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This is the first volume that examines dangerous gift-giving across centuries and disciplines. Bringing to the fore the subject that features as an aside in gift studies, it offers new insights into the ambivalent and troubled history of gift-giving.

    Dangerous, violent, and self-destructive gift-giving remains an alluring challenge for scholars almost a hundred years after Marcel Mauss’s landmark work on the gift. Globally, the notion of toxic and fateful gifts has haunted mythologies, folklores, and literatures for millennia. This book problematizes what stands behind the notion of the 'dangerous gift' and demonstrates how this operational term may help us to better understand the role and place of gift-giving from antiquity to the present through a series of case studies ranging from ancient Zoroastrianism to modern digital dating. The book develops a complex historical, cross-cultural, and multi-disciplinary approach to gift-giving that invites comparisons between various facets of this phenomenon through time and across societies.

    The book will interest a wide range of scholars working in anthropology, history, literary criticism, religious studies, and contemporary digital culture. It will primarily appeal to university educators and researchers of political culture, pre-modern religion, social relations, and the relationship between commerce and gifts.

    Introduction: Unpacking the Dangerous Gift

    Tracey A. Sowerby and Alexandra Urakova

    Part 1: Gifts Divine, Demonic, and Devout

    1. Demonic Gifts and Counter-gifts in Ancient Zoroastrianism

    Shervin Farridnejad

    2. Blessings, Bribes and Bishops: Cyril of Alexandria, the Council of Ephesus (431) and the Making of Orthodoxy

    Volker Menze

    3. ‘The most precious of all gifts’: Sentimentality, Consumption, and The Gift of Death in Warner, Phelps, and Twain

    Alexandra Urakova

    Part 2: The Precarious Politics of the Gift

    4. The Dangerous Gift as Diplomatic Tool: Relics and Cross-confessional Gift-giving at the Turn of the Seventeenth Century

    Tracey A. Sowerby

    5. A Pandora’s Box of National Hostility?: The Széchényis and Aristocratic Donations in Nineteenth Century East-Central Europe

    Sándor Hites

    6. The Dangerous Gift of Universal Income: The Problem of Rentier Dependency in Venezuela

    Aaron Kappeler

    Part 3: The Dark Side of the Gift Economy

    7. Taking Aim at ‘Exchange Gifts’ and the ‘Christmas Tax’: Dangerous Gifts in the Progressive Era and the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving

    Ellen Litwicki

    8. The Dual Dangers of the Gift

    Russell Belk

    9. The Birthday Cake: Commodity, Thing, Object, and Token

    Robert Appelbaum

    Afterword: Gifts, Dangers and Their Performative Context

    Ilana F. Silber


    Alexandra Urakova is a Kone Foundation fellow at Tampere University and holds the title of docent in North-American Studies at the University of Helsinki.

    Tracey A. Sowerby is a Research Associate at St Benet's Hall, Oxford and the Director of the Europaeum Scholars Programme.

    Tudor Sala has been awarded postdoctoral fellowships from the Leibniz Association/DAAD, the Dahlem Research School/COFUND, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, and the Institute for Advanced Study at the Central European University.