Understanding Rituals

Understanding Rituals

Understanding Rituals

Understanding Rituals


Understanding Ritualsexplores how ritual can be understood within the framework of contemporary social anthropology, and shows that ritual is now one of the most fertile fields of anthropological research. The contributors demonstrate how rituals create and maintain - or transform - a society's cultural identity and social relations. By examining specific rituals from various theoretical viewpoints, they reveal the ultimate and contradictory values to which each society as a whole is attached.


Daniel de Coppet

This volume contains the six contributions prepared for the panel ‘Understanding Ritual’, which met at Coimbra on September 2, 1990, in the framework of the first conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists. ‘Understanding Ritual’ was one of four related panels, the other three being ‘Constructing Genders’, ‘Making History’, and ‘Conceptualizing Societies’. These four themes were and are an invitation to discuss the fund of anthropological knowledge in the light of current world trends. That this discussion unfolds in a European framework implies a double comparison: intra-European, of course, but also between anthropological ways of thought in Europe and in the rest of the world, particularly in the United States.

Our discussion takes place at a moment when social anthropology, which since its creation has contributed, together with sociology, to the elaboration of contemporary ideologies, is joining with other disciplines, including philosophy, in a vast questioning of social science discourse. the social dimension of what is human is currently the object of far-reaching debate, given the planet-wide standardization of certain cultural traits and the astonishing contrast between this standardization and the vitality of specific cultures, with their faculty for integrating contradictory influences without, for all that, losing their sense of identity. At this first conference of the easa, it seemed interesting to open a discussion not only on general themes such as history in anthropology, the social construction of gender differences, and the scientific understanding of societies but also on a domain of social life often considered puzzling, that of rituals.

Indeed, while rituals are discerned and described by most

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