What does dirt have to do with belief?
In 1966, the anthropologist Mary Douglas confronted the idea that cleanliness was an obvious matter of hygiene, and claimed that secular cleaning practices hold just as much symbolic significance as do religious rituals of purity. She argued that dirt was not an intrinsic object, but instead a category which lay ‘in the eye of the beholder’.
The definition of ‘religion’ in Western secular society, meanwhile, is deeply entangled with the history of Christianity, the European Enlightenment, and the foundations of British anthropology. When Douglas’ theory of dirt is placed in the context of that history, further questions can be posed about its relation to traditional anthropological interests such as belief, religion, animism and magic, and further insights into our everyday relationship with dirt are gradually revealed.