Comparison and Christianity: Sacrifice in the Age of the Encyclopedia

In: Regimes of Comparatism

Abstract: This essay argues 1) that a key innovation in eighteenth century comparative methods lay in a shift from diachronic to synchronic approaches, which in turn opened up new possibilities of abstraction and theorization; 2) that this shift toward abstraction was accompanied by efforts to organize religious phenomena, to visualize them as interlocking and complex systems, and to find common structures of ritual and religious life; 3) that certain resources in Christianity were crucially mobilized to accomplish both of these; and finally, 4) that these two elements—abstraction and organization—defined the conceptual shape of a practice called “sacrifice” that the later human sciences took as essential to explain. Key authors considered include: Joseph-François Lafitau, Bernard Picard, Jean Frederic Bernard, Giambattista Vico, Johann Lomeier, Johann Zedler, and William Robertson Smith.