Symbols and Meaning: A Concise Introduction

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9780759103221: Symbols and Meaning: A Concise Introduction

Womack offers a concise and easy-to-read overview of the power and meaning of symbols in all human societies. She describes how symbols_images, words, or behaviors with multi-layered meanings_are mechanism of communication. She demonstrates how we experience the power of symbols in all aspects of human life: birth, death, love, sexual desire, and the need for food and shelter. Womack investigates the use of symbols in the language of religion, healing, politics, social organization and control, popular culture, psychology, philosophy, semiotics, magic and expressive culture, including art, aesthetics, literature, theater, sports, and music. The author's eclectic, anthropological approach incorporates the social, conceptual and psychological dynamics of symbols. Her new book is an essential introductory textbook for courses that define fundamental concepts in religion, cultural anthropology, communication, and art.

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About the Author:

Mari Womack is a writer and anthropologist specializing in symbols, religion, gender, American popular culture, and anthropological theory and methods. A research scholar at the U.C.L.A. Center for the Study of Women, she is scriptwriter for the P.B.S. television series Faces of Culture and author of Being Human: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, and of The Other Fifty Percent, a reader on gender.

Review:

Womack has done an excellent job of lucidly explaining major themes in the analysis of symbols from the anthropological literature. Her approach is admirably balanced, even-handed and well-informed. She uses examples from a wide range of cross-cultural ethnographic writings. This book will find its place as an up to-date textbook for instructional use as well as a handy reference for practitioners in general and a thoughtful discussion for general readers interested in the topic. It is also enhanced by the author's discussion of her own field researches with a spiritualist group in Los Angeles and with professional athletes. (Andrew Strathern and Pamela J. Stewart, University of Pittsburgh)

In her latest book, Mari Womack successfully integrates a theoretical history of academic approaches to symbols with dozens of rich, ethnographic examples from around the world. Symbols and Meaning stands as an elegant contribution to the canon of introductory anthropology, which aims to provoke reflection on not only the wide range of cultural symbols but also the reasons why people hold symbols as powerful markers of identity and essential to everyday life. (Derek Pardue, Union College, Schenectady)

Womack has succeeded in providing an introduction to the anthropology of symbolism that is comprehensive, clearly-written, elegant, and fair. Taking an eclectic approach, she guides the reader through the leading theoretical ideas in the development of symbolic anthropology, always anchoring her theoretical discussions with ethnographic examples, both classic and new. Her ability to bridge between ancient or distant cultural traditions and our contemporary world is striking, and at times breathtaking. Her style is unpretentious and economical, yet always interesting and intelligent. Teachers of symbolic anthropology will delight in this trustworthy and open-minded presentation, as will any nonspecialist looking for a starting place from which to approach this rich and profound subject. (Allen W. Johnson, University of California, Los Angeles)

Symbolism is a complex and often subtle subject to understand. Mari Womack has written a lucid and readily understandable book that manages to cover all the domains into which symbolism extends, and to relate to both its social and psychological aspects. She shows how symbolism is involved in our social and interpersonal lives, how it is used in such diverse areas as sports and the arts, and in more traditional areas like religion and ceremonial ritual. Womack also demonstrates how symbolism is studied by scholars, the various ways in which it is interpreted, and most interestingly, how it is used in those parts of the world that are mainly non-literate. Written form an anthropological perspective, this book should not only be of value for the university population, but to all readers who are interested in the cultural world around them. (Douglass Price-Williams, Professor Emeritus, Departments of Psychiatry and Anthropology, University of California at Los Angeles)

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