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Enzo Pace

Subject Religion
Sociology » Sociology of Religion

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


If we use Durkheim's classic division of suicides into egoistic, altruistic, and anomic ( Le Suicide , 1897), martyrdom is an altruistic suicide. According to Durkheim, those who consciously sacrifice their lives for a supreme ideal (religious, political, or moral) demonstrate not only a profound faith in the ideal, but also strong commitment to a group (be it micro or macro). In the martyr's hierarchy of values, the individual's life counts for less than the supreme and universal ideal he believes in (the Fatherland, the Nation, God, Religion). The ego places itself (i.e., the individual's whole life) under the alter , showing how far faith and trust enable the individual to transcend himself, to overcome the instinctive fear of violent death and to prove his supreme coherence with an ideal. Group solidarity pushes him to sacrifice his own life in an altered state of consciousness, a sort of mystical experience that allows him to go beyond human fears and anxieties. The heroic dimension of martyrdom means precisely the lucid awareness that, by acting in a particular way, death is a certainty. Martyrdom is a trial for the individual and for the group he belongs to. So the psychic system of a martyr tends to reduce the social complexity he lives in according to a terrifyingly basic binary code, life/death (with the resulting give life/take life), which he believes is the fundamental ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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