ATH 346-01

*** Missed Wed. class ***

Problems with functionalism

  • is]gnores critical detail of content of ritual
  • treats ritual as “mistake”
  • rich expressive symbolism — doesn’t necessarily”function” outside of ritual itself
  • make sense of ritual from assumedly “objective” position of removed and detached observer — “outsider’s view”

Ritual as system of meaning

  • relationship between human cognitive processes & organization
  • emphasizes that ritual is its own thing: not “really something else”
  • insider’s own understanding of ritual just as valid as outsider’s


  • analogy of “text” to describe ritual as something that expresses something about the culture
  • cockfights in Bali
  • refers to other domains

Ritual doesn’t simply express or communicate

  • ritual is transformative; it changes participants’ lives or the culture in which they are performed
  • instrumental in accomplishing a specific predetermined goal or having pragmatic effects
    • moving individual from one stage ot another
    • appeasing the gods/spirits
    • encouraging rain
    • understanding members of the community

Rites of passage

  • 2 types: calendrical, life cycle
  • bring about transformations of status of members of any social group
  • moving them from one position in the social structure to another
  • many religious rituals are rites of passage, or have such rites within them
  • they have spun off and secular institutions like schools take responsibility for such rites
  • all rites have 3 components:
    • separations: preliminal stage preparing subject for purification, removal of hair, scarification, tattoos or cutting
    • Liminal: person undergoing rite is symbolically situation “outside society” and may be subject to certain taboos or restrictions in his/her movements
      • customary rules of society might be suspended,
      • or the rite as a symbolic death; leading to new rebirth
    • postliminal phase: individual is reintegrated or reincorporated into society, in new status or altered state

the social and ritual body

  • the body is central to ritual
  • body’s isomorphism with larger social contexts
  • point o connection between cosmos, society and individual
  • gives “natural” significance to categories which are in fact socially defined
  • personal & social bodies — concrete bridge between the individual & collective

performative studies

  • rituals are not exactly the same every time
  • some more rigid, while some are very flexible
  • not just the rules, but how each individual actors make the ritual their own
  • dynamic and experience oriented
  • focus on non-linguistic dimensions of the ritual process
  • process of trying to ascribe and create meaning, then acting on that meaning
  • carnival
    • chaos, disorder, playfulness
    • but an underlying kind of structure
    • mardi gras
  • possession ceremonies
    • Kapferer: demonic reality is symbolically created, and subsequently and gradually destroyed
    • changes the experiential condition of patients and to bring patients back into a normal conception of the world — securing a cure

*** Discussion leader 1: adaptive value of religion ***

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