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April 2, 2013

"Legal Punishment as Civil Ritual: Making Cultural Sense of Harsh Punishment"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by SpearIt available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This work examines mass incarceration through a ritual studies perspective, paying explicit attention to the religious underpinnings. Conventional analyses of criminal punishment focus on the purpose of punishment in relation to legal or moral norms, or attempt to provide a general theory of punishment.  The goals of this work are different, and instead try to understand the cultural aspects of punishment that have helped make the United States a global leader in imprisonment and execution.  It links the boom in incarceration to social ruptures of the 1950s and 1960s and posits the United States’ world leader status as having more to do with culture than crime.

This approach has been largely overlooked by legal scholars, yet ritual studies enhance understanding of law and legal institutions. A ritual perspective illuminates the religious history of criminal justice, challenges traditional dogmas that hold punishment as a rational response to crime, and explains why some people must suffer so that others may feel secure.

April 2, 2013 at 10:24 AM | Permalink


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Heh, my screen reader pronounces the author's name as "Spirit", I had to check that this wasn't some elaborate but late joke.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Apr 2, 2013 11:23:55 AM

Fascinating paper.

"Mistrust all in whom the will to punish is strong," Nietzsche. Hitler missed that day in class.

Posted by: George | Apr 2, 2013 6:31:01 PM

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