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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 118834 Find in a Library
Title: Rituals of Death: Capital Punishment and Human Sacrifice (From Facing the Death Penalty, P 139-155, 1989, Michael L Radelet, ed. -- See NCJ-118827)
Author(s): E D Purdum; J A Paredes
Date Published: 1989
Page Count: 17
Sponsoring Agency: Temple University Press
Philadelphia, PA 19122-6099
Sale Source: Temple University Press
1601 N. Broad Street
University Service Bldg., Room 305
Philadelphia, PA 19122-6099
United States of America
Type: Survey (Cross-Cultural)
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This comparative analysis of contemporary executions in Florida with certain forms of human sacrifice practiced by the Aztecs in Mexico in the 16th century concludes that both represent an institutionalized magical response to societal stresses.
Abstract: Thus, both result from the universal, ancient human impulse to do something in times of stress, even if it is only ritual, because all peoples turn to magic when knowledge, technology, and experience fail. The empirical evidence indicates that capital punishment does no more to deter crime than the blood rituals of Tenochtitlan did to keep the sun in the sky. Therefore the death penalty must serve some broader, noninstrumental function. In fact, modern capital punishment is an institutionalized magical response to the perceived disorder in life in the United States and in the world. This magical solution has a special appeal to the beleaguered, white, religious members of the working class. Thus, the public media spectacle surrounding the recent executions in Florida showed a sequence of events and public reactions that transformed a closely guarded, hidden expression of the ultimate power of the State into a public ceremonial event. The activities were reminiscent of the pomp and circumstance for the masses that accompanied the weird rites of Tenochtitlan, which involved extensive preparations involving the selection of the victims, the announcement of the death, extensive preparations, and specific rituals for the killing and the period after death. 32 references.
Main Term(s): Capital punishment
Index Term(s): Cross-cultural comparisons; Cultural influences; Florida; Mexico; Religion
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