Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity

By Adam B. Seligman; Robert P. Weller et al. | Go to book overview

3
Ritual, Play, and Boundaries

Our broad definition of ritual has the combined advantages and disadvantages of pulling our attention out to behavior well beyond intuitive understandings of the term. The key formal features we have identified—like creating a subjunctive world or crafting a performative order through repetition—put watching Romeo and Juliet, saying “please,” or playing cops and robbers on the same analytic plane as Daoist rites to renew the structure of the universe itself. Our hope in doing this is to reveal more about the workings of a crucial social phenomenon, but we also recognize the danger in stretching a term so broadly that it loses any analytic rigor. The first part of this chapter takes our argument to the general category of play, with the goal of deepening our understanding of ritual through the comparison. The exercise also leads us to suggest that ritual offers more than one way of crossing into a subjunctive world, and that each mechanism has potentially different social consequences, including different possibilities for the creation of empathy. The second part of the chapter focuses on the boundaries that must be crossed in the creation of empathy—the ways they frame our social and personal categories, and the ways that ritual allows us to play with them.

We are hardly the first to be tantalized by the apparently close connections between ritual and play, or to find that the many similarities force us to think hard about where the differences might lie. Many of anthropology’s most creative thinkers about ritual, for

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Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface ix
  • Contents xiii
  • About the Authors xv
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Ritual and the Subjunctive 17
  • 2 - Ambiguity, Ambivalence, and Boundaries 43
  • 3 - Ritual, Play, and Boundaries 69
  • 4 - Ritual and Sincerity 103
  • 5 - Movements of Ritual and Sincerity 131
  • Afterword 179
  • Notes 183
  • References 199
  • Index 213
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