New book on satii

Peter Schreiner pesch at INDOGER.UNIZH.CH
Thu Nov 26 09:54:07 UTC 1998

Dear list-members,

the following new publication from Zuerich may be of interest to the list;
I forward a brief description of its contents:

>Joerg Fisch: Toedliche Rituale. Die indische Witwenverbrennung und andere
>Formen der Totenfolge. Frankfurt a.M., New York: Campus Verlag 1998, 576 pp.
>This ist not only the most comprehensive historical account of sati to be
>published so far, but it also puts sati for the first time into the wider
>context of related customs all over the world. Totenfolge (following the
>dead) means living individuals accompanying deceased persons voluntarily or
>involuntarily into the hereafter. It is usually connected both with
>religious beliefs about a future life and with power relationships which
>force or induce one category of people to accompany another category.
>The first part of the book deals with Totenfolge outside India, for example
>widow-burning in Bali, widow-strangling on the South Pacific Islands,
>burying alive courtiers in China and Africa or sending messengers to famous
>dead persons in Africa and Southeast Asia.
>The second part concentrates on sati. While it deals with all aspects of
>the custom, historical analysis is at the center. There is no discernible
>origin, but the gradual extension of the custom in India seems obvious. The
>fact that the British administered sati for a few years before they
>prohibited it has led to a unique body of sources which allows a detailed
>sociological analysis of the custom, showing that it was comparatively rare
>but occurred in all areas of India and in all social and age groups.
>The last chapter of the book analyzes the origin of the famous prohibition
>of sati in 1829, showing that it was neither forced upon the British
>administration from outside nor the result of a lonely decision of Lord
>William Bentinck but the result of growing opposition inside the
>administration by the Company's servants who refused to administer a custom
>incompatible with their own moral views. The book thus also becomes a study
>of the administrative limits of cultural relativism.
>Prof. Dr. Joerg Fisch
>Historisches Seminar der Universitaet Zuerich
>Karl Schmid-Str. 4, CH-8006 Zuerich/Switzerland
>Tel: +41-(0)1-634 38 66 Fax: +41-(0)1-634 49 13
>Internet: hssek at

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