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Sacred and Profane

Jacob Mey


In many cultures and languages, we encounter a distinction between that which is called the “profane”, and that which is considered “sacred”. In principle, the distinction belongs to the sphere in which it originated; for instance, in Latin, the sacra were seen as representing the other-worldly, belonging to the fanum, the holy ground of the temple, in contrast to matters called pro-fana, being outside of that dedicated space. The societal distinction between the two spheres subsequently became embodied and solidified in linguistic distinctions, first of all having to do with the sacred contexts, setting them off against those dealing with the mundane space. While the split “sacred/profane” thus is not new, its realizations assume very different forms of “setting apart”, as may be seen from the common distinctions found in diverse languages’ use of certain forms of address discussed in the current piece.

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