Mary Douglas "Cleanliness and Order"

Topics: Cleanliness

The book’s writer is Mary Douglas. Mary Douglas was born in 1921 and he died in 2007. He is an English anthropologist. He is known for his work on human culture and symbolism. He was especially influenced by Evans-Pritchard’s views when he studied

Anthropology at Oxford University between 1939 and 1943. He returned to Oxford after serving in the British Colonial Office for four years, and obtained his degree for anthropology.

He is field research among the Lele, who at that time stayed at the Belgian Congress, in 1949.

He has published Purity and Danger’s book in 1966. We can summarize the importance of this book as follows; The first importance is that it is her best-known work. In 1991 the Times Literary Supplement listed it as one of the hundred most influential non-fiction books published since 1945. It has gone through numerous reprints and re-editions (1969, 1970, 1978, 1984, 1991, 2002). In 2003 a further edition was brought out as volume 2 in Mary Douglas: Collected Works (ISBN 0415291054) and second importance is that a historian Late Antique states Peter Brown Purity and Danger Early Christian had a great impact on his important 1971 article ‘Late Ancient Sacred Man Rise and Function’, which is considered one of the bases for all subsequent work.

Incoming Fear Powers (1980), while Julia Kristeva criticizes some aspects of her approach to the details of her theory, she accepts the effect of Douglas in her ‘core business’. So, we can say that Purity and Danger is important book for Mary Douglas and history of some opinions. Purity and Danger is one of the books belong to Mary Douglas.

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Also, The Lele of the Kasai (1963); Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (1970); The World of Goods (with Baron Isherwood 1979); How Institutions Think (1987); Missing Persons (1998); Leviticus as Literature (1999); Thinking in Circles (2007) are belong to Mary Douglas.

Introduction: The topic of the purity and Danger is that the book emphasizes that what is seen as ‘dirty and / or taboo’ and the ways of getting rid of them are actually the things that bring society together, consolidate and remind social belonging. To summarize the subject of the book titled purity and danger in one sentence, we can say that the history of pollution and cleanliness between primitive religions and today’s modern religion. The book of Purity and Danger begins by comparing modern religion with primitive religion. It questions how we decide what is primitive or what is modern. It opposes othering by distinguishing modern religion and primitive religion from each other. Mary Douglas, the author of our book, argues that the principal principle is the othering. In her book, she puts all these thoughts between the concepts of “pollution” and “cleanliness.

Attention to hygiene and respect for traditions.” However, it is not considered as an attention to hygiene. Here we ask the question, why do we clean the dirt? When cleaning dirt, our aim is to regulate what we see as dirty rather than hygiene, which is contrary to the order. What we talked about the relationship between religion and pollution, religions want to put their choosen dirty into a system within their own beliefs, so they exist because it means that pollution does not fit the order. Religions think that some events are related to disasters and that the pollution is going and pollution causes the social taboo we are talking about. In other words, taboo means that those who do not follow the order, who are dirty, act as punishers. Taboo is considered sacred in the book.

Every religion has its own taboo and sanctity, filth, pollution, and inverse. The holy is not dirty, the dirty is not holy. In this context, the rules of cleanliness are clean and dirty, safe and dangerous, they describe events. Therefore, ignoring or not obeying the rules of cleaning prepares the ground for pollution, that is, danger.

Thus, while shaping the society, these issues should be taken into consideration in order to strengthen the society, they should be categorized accordingly, and they should choose the clean one. In short, the pollution threatens the order, and cleaning comes with pollution and fear, because dirt brings danger. The concept of cleaning is actually an effort to organize the environment. I want to talk about same names in the book. Frazer, Durkheim, Robertson Smith, Henry Burnett Tylor. Sir James George Frazer (1 January 1854 – 7 May 1941) was a Scottish social and folklorist influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion.

Frazer says that the idea of cleanliness and pollution has yet to be separated by precise lines, and this points to taboo. Also, I want to quote from the book;” The taboo of pollution overlaps with divinity taboos because primitive man does not distinguish between sanctity and pollution (Taboo and the Perils of the Soul, p. 224).”

The second name is Durkheim. David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline of sociology and—with W. E. B. Du Bois, Karl Marx and Max Weber—is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science. He wants to shows that in order for the nature of society to be properly understood, another thing is that it is necessary to assume the set of common values and collective conscience. The third name is Robertson Smith. William Robertson Smith FRSE was a Scottish orientalist, Old Testament scholar, professor of divinity, and minister of the Free Church of Scotland.

He says that there is not difference between religion and daily life. I also want to talk about the author’s opinion. Mary thinks in her book; The main function of cleaning is to impose an order on an irregular event. According to the book I agree with Mary Douglas, because the dirt of some behavior that we think is dirty comes from its danger and our religious rules exist to protect us from these dangers. The example of Tesniye sura and the example of the Levililer show us clearly.


From this book, I understood that some of our behaviors, which we call ‘filth’, actually originate from the rules and beliefs of religion, which we believe instinctively. I found book close to philosophy.


  1. “James George Frazer.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Apr. 2020,
  2. Mary Douglas, Metis Yayınları,
  3. “Purity and Danger.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Dec. 2019,
  4. “Saflık Ve Tehlike -Purity and Danger.”,
  5. “William Robertson Smith.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Feb. 2020,
  6. “Émile Durkheim.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Apr. 2020,Émile_Durkheim.
  7. Douglas, Mary, and Emine Ayhan. Saflık Ve Tehlike: Kirlilik Ve Tabu Kavramlarının Bir çözümlemesi. Metis, 2007.

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Mary Douglas "Cleanliness and Order". (2021, Dec 15). Retrieved from

Mary Douglas "Cleanliness and Order"
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