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Purity Culture

April 13th, 2021 | 17 min read

By Ana Siljak

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” (Matthew 27:24)

Our contemporary culture has become so one-dimensional as to be utterly blind to the power of symbols. Take purity rituals: in the ancient world, as Matthew Thiessen most recently noted in Jesus and the Forces of Death, these rituals were both material (taking place in the realm of the biological and practical) and also transcendental (connected to a view of the mortality of human beings and their relationship to God).[1] Modern recommendations on the spread of disease (“Stay six feet away from others…Wash your hands often,” according to the CDC) are, by contrast, issued and read in an entirely scientific manner: viruses spread through close contact, soap and water kills viruses. These recommendations are perfectly reasonable and practical during a pandemic. But can they also be read as symbolic?

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Ana Siljak

Ana Siljak is Associate Professor of Humanities in the Hamilton Center at the University of Florida. Her current research and publications focus on Russian philosophy and religious thought. She is currently writing a book on the personalist philosophy of Nikolai Berdiaev and editing a translation of the correspondence between Nikolai Berdiaev and Jacques Maritain (forthcoming from McGill-Queen’s University Press).