Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice

Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice

Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice

Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice

Synopsis

In recent years the notion of ritual has emerged as an important focus for new forms of cultural analysis. Arguing that the concept of ritual is overdue for critical rethinking, Bell here offers a close theoretical analysis of the recent developments in ritual studies, concentrating on anthropology, sociology, and history of religions. She begins by showing how discourse on ritual has served to generate and legitimate a limited and ultimately closed form of cultural analysis. She then proposes that so-called ritual activities be removed from their isolated position as special, paradigmatic acts and restored to the context of "social activity" in general. Using the term "ritualization" to describe ritual thus contextualized, she defines it as a culturally strategic way of acting. She goes on to show how this definition can serve to illuminate such classic issues in traditional ritual studies as belief, ideology, legitimation, and power.

Excerpt

This book is the result of a longstanding curiousity about ritual and our notions of ritual. The problems and issues engaged here were first formulated for a dissertation chapter, but since then they have continued to intrude on several very different projects. I could no longer resist the temptation to follow through on a few key ideas and see what might emerge, although I knew that as a book on ritual, the project would display one obvious idiosyncrasy: rather than contributing to the conceptual integrity and scope of the notion of ritual, this book is designed to be something of a lightning rod for the dilemmas of theory, analysis, and practice. The concept of ritual is not destroyed in the process, but I hope this study succeeds in shaking it up a little.

Several very different scholars of religion and ritual have influenced my particular formulation of the "problem" of ritual. Durkheim was the first such influence since I was exposed to the full sweep of his Elementary Forms of the Religious Life very early in my education. In defining religion as a formal object of -- theoretical and comparative analysis, Durkheim laid out categories that I could use to locate my own experience of religion in the schools and churches of pre-Vatican II Catholicism. Nonetheless, these categories did not always fit, and I have argued with Durkheim in my head ever since. In the end, it is with Durkheim's pragmatic formulation of religion as a matter of primary beliefs and secondary rites that the battle is joined and my analysis of ritual begins. I have enjoyed the prospect of a subsequent and complementary study giving full attention to the problem of 'belief'.

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