Fears and Symbols

An Introduction to the Study of Western Civilization
Publication date: 
333 pages

Fears and Symbols provides a panoramic view of civilization and is written in a lively and informative style that has wide-ranging appeal. Containing a wealth of facts, Hankiss’ landmark study is based on the central role fear and anxiety have played as the organizing motives of human existence and social life.

Hankiss argues that existential security has been a major factor in the generation of civilizations, perhaps even more important than mainsteam theories of culture offered by Kant, Freud and Foucault. Hankiss covers a plethora of subjects by which he explains that, in order to mitigate fear, human beings and communities have surrounded themselves – not only with the walls of their houses and cities, with instruments and weapons, laws and institutions, but also – with the protective spheres of symbols: myths and religions, values and belief systems, ideas and scientific theories, moral and practical rules of behaviour, and a wide range of everyday rituals and trivialities. Hankiss pays particular attention to the role of symbols and symbolic systems in contemporary societies.

Fears and Symbols is an encyclopedic study that is of interest not only across all levels of study, covering many disciplines – cultural studies, sociology, cultural anthropology, comparative religion, cultural and social history – but also appeals to the general reader.


1. Fear and the social sciences Fear; Sociology; Anthropology; Psychology 

2. The world of symbols Strategies; Symbols, myths, civilizations; Collapse and regeneration 

3. An alien world ? The world; Human beings; The four jungles; The experience of the alien world 

4. The garden of Eden The myth of the periphery; Consecration; Paradise; The garden 

5. The image of the world The house; The city; The temple and the cathedral; Chaos and cosmos today 

6. The moral universe Amulets and sacraments; Rationalization; Satan; The transformation of evil 

7.The world of guilt Guilt; The religion of guilt; The philosophy of guilt; The politics of guilt; The psychology of guilt; An innocent society? 

8. The rational world Two faces of rationality; Reason and meaning; Reason and morality; Reason and uncertainty 

9. The world of beauty Art; Tragedies 

10. The world of play Homo ludens; Soccer; Play as world of symbol 

11. The world of jokes Jokes and laughter; The comic destruction of reality 

12. The world of trivialities

13. Symbols and civilization