ORIGINS OF THE SACRED by Dudley Young

ORIGINS OF THE SACRED

The Ecstasies of Love and War
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Audacious anthropological speculation by Young (Literature/Univ. of Essex, England), who traces humanity's spiritual practices back to the ancients and beyond in an attempt to ``heal the rift that opened in the Western soul some 400 years ago when science and religion went their separate ways.'' Decrying today's scientism, or ``science as religion,'' Young calls for a return to ``foundations''--the mythological roots of our understanding of the universe. Most daringly, he looks to the behavior of apes for clues to ``the animal base from which all man's higher activities arise.'' Relying on the work of Jane Goodall and others, Young finds that ``the opening'' toward ``the beginnings of human perplexity'' arose when a chimp first prodded the corpse of another chimp and was puzzled; that ritual arose to help regulate chimp pecking-order; and that love, or at least self- consciousness, may have arisen as a result of brachiation, which physically allowed apes and then hominids to face one another directly. Young then follows the evolution of these potentialities as early man moved onto the savannah, where ``alpha-shaman,'' who united temporal and magical powers, split into alpha and shaman-- the template for the 16th-century rift between science and religion and indeed perhaps for all history, since ``at the mythic center of virtually every culture is the story of the hero, and the hero looks like alpha-shaman, who may save both himself and us by refusing to be split in two.'' The remainder of Young's erudite argument basically traces the ways early humanity, up through the Greeks, came to terms with that split--a wide-ranging survey that touches upon, among other concerns, the symbolism of various animals, blood sacrifice, the mythic underpinnings and meanings of Genesis and the Odyssey, and, in an appendix, the etymologies of various words relating to the sacred. A dazzling exposition, intellectually demanding but lightened by lively prose, that goes far to establish Young as the Joseph Campbell of the Nineties. (Line drawings--not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-312-06432-2
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1991