Skip to content
Register Sign in Wishlist

Politics and the Sacred

$35.99 (C)

  • Date Published: August 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107428102

$ 35.99 (C)

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:
Hardback, eBook

Looking for an examination copy?

This title is not currently available for examination. However, if you are interested in the title for your course we can consider offering an examination copy. To register your interest please contact providing details of the course you are teaching.

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • This path-breaking book argues that practices of the sacred are constitutive of modern secular politics. Following a tradition of enquiry in anthropology and political theory, it examines how limit situations shape the political imagination and collective identity. As an experiential and cultural fact, the sacred emerges within, and simultaneously transcends, transgressive dynamics such as revolutions, wars or globalisation. Rather than conceive the sacred as a religious doctrine or a metaphysical belief, Wydra examines its adaptive functions as origins, truths and order which are historically contingent across time and transformative of political aspirations. He suggests that the brokenness of political reality is a permanent condition of humanity, which will continue to produce quests for the sacred, and transcendental political frames. Working in the spirit of the genealogical mode of enquiry, this book examines the secular sources of political theologies, the democratic sacred, the communist imagination, European political identity, the sources of human rights and the relationship of victimhood to new wars.

    • Proposes a new view on the anthropological foundations of modern politics which will appeal to political and social theorists working with anthropological approaches
    • Develops the relationship between the sacred and politics in a spirit of genealogical enquiry by providing a broad range of evidence for the link between practices of the sacred and politics
    • Draws on classical political theory and anthropological concepts to explain processes in contemporary politics
    Read more

    Reviews & endorsements

    "This book is a first-class contribution to the reflection on the anthropological foundations of politics. By laying stress on meanings, and through judicious use of a wide-ranging number of illustrations, Harald Wydra’s work offers a well-grounded reformulation of the key question of the sacred. It is essential reading not only for political anthropologists, but also for comparativists and specialists of international relations."
    Jean-Pascal Daloz, CNRS Research Professor, University of Strasbourg (SAGE), France

    "Having been ostracized for decades, the term "political religion" made a comeback in the 1990s and the "religious" aspect of totalitarian regimes is now widely recognized to the point of cliché. But Professor Wydra's erudite and paradigm-changing book locates modern "religious politics" within a far more archetypal and subtle human cognitive process. It is one which, silkworm-like, spins gossamer threads of the sacred out of liminal, life-threatening situations to bind human communities together and renew their bonds to the earth. But, as he shows, the political consequences of defying cosmic absurdity in this way are deeply ambivalent."
    Roger Griffin, author of Modernism and Fascism (2007)

    "Two of the driving forces in contemporary life - politics and the sacred - are not necessarily separate, as this thoughtful book reveals. The striking analysis focuses on lived aspects of practice and performance rather than on images and concepts, and its arresting reconception of both politics and the sacred is brought to life in chapters that focus on communism, democracy, human rights and collective victimhood. These fertile ideas will change our ways of thinking about the way politics and religion interact and how they affect public life in the global era."
    Mark Juergensmeyer, author of Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107428102
    • length: 274 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.4kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: the sacred and the political
    1. The extraordinary and the political imagination
    2. The politics of transcendence
    3. Secular sources of political theologies
    4. Democracy and the sacred
    5. The power of symbols: Communism and beyond
    6. Generations of European imaginations
    7. The spell of humanity
    8. Victim and new wars
    Epilogue: rationalities of the sacred.

  • Author

    Harald Wydra, University of Cambridge
    Harald Wydra is a Fellow of St Catharine's College, Cambridge. He has previously taught political science at the University of Regensburg, held visiting fellowships at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (Paris) and the National University of Australia (Canberra), and was Visiting Professor at the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre-La Défense. He is the founding Editor of the journal International Political Anthropology and his books include Continuities in Poland's Permanent Transition (2001), Communism and the Emergence of Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2007), Democracy and Myth in Russia and Eastern Europe (2008, co-edited with Alexander Wöll) and Breaking Boundaries: Varieties of Liminality (2015, co-edited with Agnes Horvath and Bjørn Thomassen).

Sign In

Please sign in to access your account


Not already registered? Create an account now. ×

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×

Find content that relates to you

Join us online

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.