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Punishment, Guilt, and Spirit in Restorative Justice: An Essay on Legal and Religious Anthropology

Mackay, Robert
June 4, 2015

Source: (2002) In, Elmar G.M. Weitekamp and Han-Jurgen Kerner, Restorative Justice: Theoretical Foundations. Deon, UK: Willan Publishing. Pp. 247-266.

In this essay Robert Mackay argues that anthropology (including historical studies of religion) offers insights about punishment, guilt, and spirit that challenge proponents of restorative justice. That is, anthropological studies of different eras and places suggest that “restorativeâ€? attitudes and practices can coexist with strong currents of punitiveness and violence. Additionally, such currents often include religious elements relating to sacrifice and to appeasement of the dead and the spirit world. This leads Mackay to raise questions about the implications of attempting to graft dispute resolution practices from traditional and ancient cultures onto the legal systems of modern nation-states. The basic thesis Mackay argues is that proponents of restorative justice cannot simply advocate it as a replacement for retributive justice without a better understanding of the powerful dynamics represented by punishment, guilt, and spirit.


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