Constructing a Small Place

  • Jonathan Z. Smith


The activity of transposition is one of the basic building blocks of ritual and a central object of ritual thought. The capacity to alter common denotations in order to enlarge potential connotations within the boundaries of ritual is one of the features that marks off its space as “sacred.” Transposition is a paradigmatic process set within the largely syntagmatic series of actions which characterize ritual. The respects in which a “this” might, under some circumstances, also be a “that” gives rise to thought which plays across the gaps of like and unlike (to give the most famous example, how do the Nuer think of a cucumber as an ox in sacrificial contexts?). Seen in this light, ritual is a prime mode of exploring the systematics of difference in relation to processes of transformation and identification.


Ritual Activity Late Antique Small Place Ritual Complex Intelligible Dimension 
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© The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities 1998

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  • Jonathan Z. Smith

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