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Ritual in its Own Right

Ritual in its Own Right: Exploring the Dynamics of Transformation

Don Handelman
Galina Lindquist
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 242
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  • Book Info
    Ritual in its Own Right
    Book Description:

    Historically, canonic studies of ritual have discussed and explained ritual organization, action, and transformation primarily as representations of broader cultural and social orders. In the present, as in the past, less attention is given to the power of ritual to organize and effect transformation through its own dynamics. Breaking with convention, the contributors to this volume were asked to discuss ritual first and foremost in relation to itself, in its own right, and only then in relation to its socio-cultural context. The results attest to the variable capacities of rites to effect transformation through themselves, and to the study of phenomena in their own right as a fertile approach to comprehending ritual dynamics.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-888-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Why Ritual in Its Own Right? How So?
    (pp. 1-32)
    Don Handelman

    Calvin, who introduces this collection of essays on ritual in its own right, understands ritual as well as many anthropologists. Calvin is dramatizing thematics that I am trying to avoid. Complaining about the peanut butter, spoiled because his mother did not observe the proper ritual for scooping it out, he is telling us: do the ritual correctly. It exists because it has afunction—control. Perform control in your ritual, and you will have control in your life. The ritual of how to scoop out peanut butter is arepresentationof life. Living produces its own symbols, its own reflections,...

  5. Part I Theorizing Ritual:: Against Representation, against Meaning

    • Chapter 1 Ritual Dynamics and Virtual Practice: Beyond Representation and Meaning
      (pp. 35-54)
      Bruce Kapferer

      Ritual is one of the most used, perhaps overused, sociological categories and one of the most resistant to adequate definition. Goody (1961), as Rappaport (1999) recently notes, states that it is an analytically useless term whose definition is best avoided. Undeterred, Rappaport (1999, 24–26) then proceeds to present a formal definition that is designed to overcome some of the grounds for Goody’s assertion. He recommends a definition that distinguishes the structural form of ritual from the elements or qualities that constitute it (symbols, performative dimensions, etc.). Thus, ritual is a form sui generis that shares many of its compositional...

    • Chapter 2 Otherwise Than Meaning: On the Generosity of Ritual
      (pp. 55-72)
      Don Seeman

      As a hermeneutic enterprise, cultural anthropology tends to assume that ordered and coherent meaning istheprimary desideratum of social life. Ritual practice plays a primarily supportive role whenever meaning has been threatened or called into question by pain or by circumstance. In this view, ritual generates meaning. Yet without denying that ritual practice can sometimes be shown to aid in the shoring up of culture’s regime, we are entitled to ask if this is all that ritual ever does. Is not theodicy, which in its broadest sense means the production of ordered meaning in response to catastrophe, only one...

  6. Part II Experimenting with Ritual:: Natives Here, Natives There

    • Chapter 3 The Red and the Black: A Practical Experiment for Thinking about Ritual
      (pp. 75-97)
      Michael Houseman

      In order to explore ritual action ‘in its own right’ (“in itself and for itself,” as Lévi-Strauss [1971, 598] advises), I have subjected students and seminar participants to a bare-bones male initiation rite of my own invention—The Red and the Black. In recounting this venture, I describe a number of recurrent features of ritual action and, specifically, of (male) initiation rites.

      This experiment was designed to illustrate and further substantiate ideas developed elsewhere in connection with a particular ‘relational’ approach to the analysis of ritual performance (Houseman 1993, 2000, 2002; Houseman and Severi 1998). According to this approach, ritual...

    • Chapter 4 Partial Discontinuity: The Mark of Ritual
      (pp. 98-116)
      André Iteanu

      The issue tackled in this volume is ‘ritual in its own right.’ Its formulation is quite puzzling, as the expression ‘in its own right’ is not a social science concept but a commonsense term. I read it as an invitation to reflect on the very possibility, for anthropology, of defining notions or institutions in themselves, that is, universally, as closed-up objects. After all, is not my discipline devoted to the study of ever-present social differences, none withstanding the universal dimensions that other disciplines might or might not have evidenced? Therefore, to be faithful to this view, what an anthropologist must...

  7. Part III Ritual and Emergence:: Historical, Phenomenal

    • Chapter 5 Religious Weeping as Ritual in the Medieval West
      (pp. 119-137)
      Piroska Nagy

      Ever since the remarks of Jules Michelet (1974, 4:167, 593) and the famousAutumn of the Middle Agesby Johan Huizinga (1996, chap. 1), historians have often noted the frequency and vehemence of religious weeping in medieval Christian sources. Historians and anthropologists have also addressed the development of collective weeping rituals in the Christian world (Althoff 1996, 60–79; Christian 1982, 97–114), and of ritual mourning laments that I exclude here, on which see Ernesto de Martino (1958) and Margaret Alexiou (1974). These strongly desired tears, termed the ‘gift of tears’ in the Middle Ages, were reputed to be...

    • Chapter 6 Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World: Ritual in Its Own Ludic Right
      (pp. 138-154)
      André Droogers

      As a concept, the term ‘ritual’ is one whose content is disputed. This is so because it has acquired so many different connotations and uses over the years. However, if in analyzing ritual-like phenomena, one focuses on ritual asthe temporary emergence and playful enactment, in its own right, of a shadow reality, the concept may stand a better chance of surviving in scholarly vocabulary. It is therefore worthwhile to consider the nature of the emergence of this ritual counterreality.

      I suggest that, contrary to the usual connotation of ritual as a solemn and serious occasion, the evocation of reality...

  8. Part IV Healing in Its Own Right:: Spirit Worlds

    • Chapter 7 Bringing the Soul Back to the Self: Soul Retrieval in Neo-shamanism
      (pp. 157-173)
      Galina Lindquist

      The idea of this volume, as I understand it, can be very simply expressed as follows: some rituals do, in fact, achieve the transformations that they purport to achieve. These transformations occur not primarily because the participants agree upon the fact that they have taken place (as is the case with Marie Antoinette, described in the introduction to this volume). Instead, these transformations are achieved by virtue of the ritual’s own intrinsic internal design. In hisModels and Mirrors, Handelman (1990) terms these rituals “models,” in contrast to those that aim at re-presenting the current order of society, which he...

    • Chapter 8 Treating the Sick with a Morality Play: The Kardecist-Spiritist Disobsession in Brazil
      (pp. 174-194)
      Sidney M. Greenfield

      When a quarter of a century ago I began to study the beliefs and rituals of ‘folk’ Catholics, Kardecist-Spiritists, Umbandistas, Candombléiros, Evangelical Protestants, and other followers of what are called ‘popular’ religions in Brazil, with special interest in the interface between religious rituals and healing, among the first questions I asked were: What happened to the patients? Did they recover after the ritual treatment? If their health improved, or was perceived to improve, as the continuation of the performance of the rituals implied, how was this to be explained?

      The thought that ritual is most frequently analyzed as the representation...

  9. Part V Philosophically Speaking

    • Chapter 9 The Tacit Logic of Ritual Embodiments: Rappaport and Polanyi between Thick and Thin
      (pp. 197-212)
      Robert E. Innis

      Roy Rappaport, in his monumental and engrossingRitual and Religion in the Making of Humanity(1999), lays an essentially Peircean or semiotic grid over the complex and historically variable phenomena of ritual in general and of religion in particular (see also Rappaport 1979). Coming to the materials from the philosophical side, without prior or contestable anthropological commitments, I find myself sympathetic to Rappaport’s concerns and admiring of his theoretical scope, empirical breadth, and existential engagement. But I am not quite satisfied in some ways either with his argument and its substantive claims or with the adequacy, focus, and implications of...

  10. Epilogue: Toing and Froing the Social
    (pp. 213-222)
    Don Handelman

    Understandably, one would think, the social is the heartland of ritual studies. What is ritual, if not the Durkheimian effervescence of the social? Still, a number of the essays in this volume move towards the borders of the social. Perhaps this has occurred because the contributors were asked to think of ritual in its own right, thereby freeing them from the so deeply embedded anthropological stricture that ritual is social because it must be attached to, relate to, or service some group. Ritual is created by groups and expressive of groups, otherwise it is insignificant. This complicity of ritual and...

  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 223-225)
  12. Index
    (pp. 226-232)