The book begins with an example of sacrifice enacted in the Roman Catholic Mass, celebrated and lived out by young nuns from India of the order of Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa, caring for elderly Arabs in Cairo. Their sacrificial self-giving is compared to “costly signaling” of the rigorous demands issued by religious communes studied by Sosis and Bressler. The introduction argues that inasmuch as sacrifice seeks to establish a relation with transcendence, beyond natural and human reality, it cannot guarantee its own success—any more than human devotion can cause a miracle to occur. Sacrifice, then, signifies religious intention to restrain and conform natural impulses to a given order of spiritual ideals, illustrated by whirling dervishes.
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