In a Journal of the American Academy of Religion article titled “Capital Punishment and Human Sacrifice” (March 2000), Brian K. Smith explores “whether, in the practice and the ideology surrounding capital punishment, modern executions in the United States are comparable to the ideology and practice of those traditional religious rituals that have been deemed ‘sacrifices.’” He hopes to “show that some new light can be shed on a contemporary and ‘secular’ practice . . . by comparing it to traditional and ‘religious’ forms of killing.”
In the best phenomenological, religious-studies manner, he does not tell us whether he thinks ritual human sacrifice is wrong. Instead he wants to help us see why capital punishment is such a hot issue. He believes that “when the category of ‘sacrifice’ is brought to bear,” moral and political evaluations stand out and have to be reckoned with in fresh ways.