Religion Past and Present

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(525 words)

[German Version]

Mafia is a collective term of uncertain etymology (Arab.?) that referred initially to criminal groups in Sicily but has been applied more recently to comparable criminal secret societies elsewhere (“Russian Mafia,” “Chinese Mafia”). The self-designation Cosa Nostra (“Our Affair”) was probably introduced in the recent past (Hess). The role of the mafioso is a by-product of Sicilian agrarian feudalism: mafiosi were originally estate managers (gabellotti) who acted as agents (“power brokers”: Wolf) of the absent feudal lords, guaranteeing and enf…

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Mohr, Hubert, “Mafia”, in: Religion Past and Present. Consulted online on 20 August 2022 <>
First published online: 2011
First print edition: ISBN: 9789004146662, 2006-2013

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