We looked at rituals in the broadest way possible this week.  You will be examining the different varieties of rituals in more depth as the course goes on.  We compared the definitions and examples of ritual that the class generated to a few basic anth definitions.  We also watched two clips of land-divers from Vanuatu as examples of a ritual that you would be less familiar with and to demonstrate how a ritual can fit into multiple categories simultaneously:

Here are all the definitions you came up with in class:

  • Rituals are collective, repetitive, have meaning for those involved, are structured.
  • Rituals can change the status of the person involved.  They involve social cohesion and are governed by rules.
  • Rituals can structure life and they rely on symbolism.
  • They emphasis boundaries.
  • Rituals are sets of standardised actions in set situations.  Rituals are culturally variable.
  • Rituals are taught and learned.
  • Rituals create shared experiences and create order from disorder.
  • They mark individual and groups life.
  • They are both structured and flexible at the same time.
  • Rituals are a reflection of social interaction to create structure & solidarity.
  • Rituals are learned actions with symbolic meaning that are prescribed by society & culture.
  • Rituals are symbolic action and have an ideal outcome.

As a class you teased out the key ideas related to ritual in your own definitions. But as promised, here are the other definitions we looked at this morn from The Anthropology of Religion (2000):

Ritual defined in the most general and basic terms is a performance, planned or improvised, that effects a transition from everyday life to an alternative context within the everyday is transformed (Bobby Alexander 1997, 139)

Religious ritual is ‘prescribed formal behaviour for occasions not given over to technical routine, having reference to beliefs in mystical (or non-empirical) beings or powers regarded as the first and final causes of all effects (Turner, 1982, 79)

Traditional religious rituals open up ordinary life to ultimate reality or some transcendent being or force in order to tap its transformative power (Alexander 1997, 139)

Ritual is a culturally constructed system of symbolic communication. It is constituted of patterned and ordered sequences of words and acts, often expressed in multiple media, whose content and arrangement are characterized in varying degree by formality (conventionality), stereotype (rigidity), condensation (fusion), and redundancy (repetition) (S.J. Tambiah 1979, 119)

We briefly discussed the different types of rituals based on Catherine Bell’s (1997) types of ritual action.  We ended up modifying her model a bit: