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How Clothing, Architecture and Law Create Civil Society

"I found through reading Gilgamesh and other sources that from a very early stage, human culture identified architecture, law and dress with order, and particularly with managing the boundary, the threshold, between the private and the public," said Gary Watt, a British law professor, in an interview with Faith & Leadership, an online offering of Duke Divinity School, exploring how culture is creatively defined and signalled. "Early writers were struck by what they saw as an obvious difference between human social nature  which is to go dressed  and animal nature," he continued, which is reflected, for example, in the early Genesis account of putting on a fig leaf, and then animal skins. Then, too, the first biblical founder of a city, Cain, was marked  or dressed  by God, "so you have this connection between human civil order and marking. Dress, architecture, law  these are all things that mark us out from animal nature and make us humans: civil, political creatures." And how we dress induces certain kinds of response. The more formal and ordered our dress, the more we are likely to feel ready for serious business, and we tend to obey those dressed formally or in uniform. Religious dress also affects how people function and are perceived as authorities, he says. Church leaders sometimes want and need to dress like everyone else, and at other times need their dress to indicate the liminal, the common mystery of entering and departing this world. For more reflection on the development and transition of culture, see the resources under the heading "Society and Culture" in our feature article, "Best Resources for Research." 

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