Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version


Perfection, genuineness, faultlessness, innocence, cleanness.

Many, but not all, religions associate purity with holiness. They see it as sacred and oppose it to pollution, contamination, and so on, which they see as profane. Religious virtuosi in these traditions seek purity, either by self-abnegation or by separating themselves from the profane things of the world. Mary Douglas (e.g., in Purity and Danger , Routledge 1966) notes that ideas about what is pure vary from society to society; one religion's purity is another's abomination. Similarly, some religions seek holiness ascetically, while others seek it in the midst of sensual life. In any case, the search for purity often results in a separation from outsiders, because believers think that relationships with them are unclean.

James V. Spickard

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