On gambling, divination, and religion

Keith Hart


This comment on Levy-Bruhl’s essay on gambling has three parts. The first raises some linguistic and analytical questions and identifies some deficiencies in the author’s use of ideal-type analysis with reference to Max Weber’s approach. The second focuses on the issue of divination as a bridge between French gamblers and “primitive mentality.” A magisterial essay on this subject by Meyer Fortes draws on Durkheim’s idea of religious ritual as a way of linking what is known and what unknown. The third part extends these reflections beyond the limits of Levy-Bruhl’s essay to consider money as the great unknown of modern life with which we crave connection. Some make money and most just take it. Betting on a large or small scale gives players a relationship to money that is both active and passive. It is a ritualized form of engagement with society through money.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/709809