Blasphemy: Impious Speech in the West from the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century

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Columbia University Press, 2002 - History - 288 pages
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Our world is steeped in attitudes and concepts derived from a sacred worldview, and this book helps us understand why. Alain Cabantous shows that blasphemy is a battlefield where religious dogma and secular rule clash, with their respective agents (the priest and the judge) competing for the proper reaction to a variety of curses.

The book takes us on a journey through the Christian West with braggarts, craftsmen, soldiers, sailors, and their coarse, forbidden exchanges. More than simply an exhaustive inventory of the uses of and bans on blasphemy, the book is a lively analysis of the relationship between the blasphemer, the machinery of language, and that of repression.

Beginning with a review of acts and crimes of blasphemy in biblical times, including the second commandment's injunction against taking God's name in vain, Cabantous reviews the close relationship between religious authority and royal authority in the sixteenth century, when the king ruled by divine right and attacks against God were implicit attacks on the nature of kingship. Punishing blasphemy was a way for the king to rule as God's representative and an occasion for the church to take control of language. The narrative continues with an exploration of acts of blasphemy, as well as related acts of desecration and profanation, which were regarded as civil and religious offenses up to the French Revolution of 1789 and afterward. The book then explores blasphemy through the mid-nineteenth century, when Catholic opponents of the French Revolution claimed that revolution itself was a blasphemy and a profanation.

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Contents

Language and the Sacred i
1
A CHRONIC
9
Blasphemy and the CounterReformation
22
Gods Holy Church Against Blasphemy
39
POWERS OF state
49
Municipalities the Bourgeois
69
BLASPHEMYs social milieus
81
The Other Reality
96
BLASPHEMY
119
Magistrate Theologian and the Ways of Justice
132
BLASPHEMY ON TRIAL
151
Speech and Expiation
163
MEANINGS OF A WORD
181
Blasphemys Comeback
201
Bibliography
265
Copyright

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About the author (2002)

Alain Cabantous is professor of modern history at the University of Paris-Nanterre and France's most respected historian of the sea, pirates, and the navy. Eric Rauth is the translator of many books, including Transmitting Culture by Régis Debray.

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