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The Craft of Ritual Studies$

Ronald L. Grimes

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780195301427

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195301427.001.0001

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Appendix 15: Major Claims of The Craft of Ritual Studies

Appendix 15: Major Claims of The Craft of Ritual Studies

The Craft of Ritual Studies
Oxford University Press

  1. 1. Human interaction is marked by the twin quotidian processes, ritualization and dramatization. Ritualization is characterized by belief, idealization, denial of fictionality, sequestering conflict, resistance to criticism, and repetition. Dramatization is characterized by fictive role-playing, audience-orientation, conflict, and unpredictability. Rites and plays draw on both ritualization and dramatization.

  2. 2. Rituals have no singular, shared, definitive quality. Rather, they share a collection of family resemblances. Events are not ritual/nonritual; rather, they are more or less ritualized—ritualized to lower and higher degrees.

  3. 3. Rituals are performances insofar as they are witnessed or tolerate subjunctive, or make-believe, attitudes.

  4. 4. Rituals are enactments insofar as they are put into force or have discernible consequences.

  5. 5. Rituals function and dysfunction in varying degrees and from various perspectives.

  6. 6. Rituals do social, psychological, economic, or ecological work with varying degrees of efficiency or effectiveness.

  7. 7. Rituals vary not only in the degree of their efficacy but also in the degree to which intentions and consequences coincide.

  8. 8. Rituals act and are acted upon; they determine and are determined.

  9. 9. Rituals display varying degrees of resistance to analysis and criticism, sometimes requiring that these processes be sequestered spatially (away from ritual authorities) and temporally (after performances).

  10. 10. The primary criteria for judging rituals should be ethical and evolutionary, but more likely they are theological, political, or aesthetic.

  11. 11. Rituals are embodied. They may involve more but not less. Rituals are enacted physically even though rituals vary in the degree to which they value the body or make bodily demands on participants. Rituals are fundamentally dependent on know-how, embodied knowledge, implying a practice-dependent epistemology.

  12. 12. Ritual actions may be covert rather than public, but if they are all in the mind (even though mind is a function of brain) or only in a book (even though books can prescribe or describe bodily acts), scholars should either not call them ritual or should flag them with an adjective such as “mental,” “literary,” or “imagined” ritual.

  13. 13. Ritual actors intend to be or do something even if that intention is only to enact a ritual correctly.

  14. 14. Rituals themselves imply intentionality, but such intention has to be inferred.

  15. 15. Having a good or high intention does not guarantee attentiveness or effect in performing ritual actions.

  16. 16. Most rituals are bounded, and they occupy cultural domains, but domains have varying degrees of permeability, and they sometimes overlap.

  17. 17. Some kinds of ritual are comparatively unbounded, e.g., Internet or televised rituals.

  18. 18. The temporal, spatial, and cultural boundaries of rituals display varying degrees of permeability.

  19. 19. Rituals interact with their social contexts, selectively incorporating and filtering them. Social contexts permeate rituals, some more thoroughly than others. Rituals exercise influence and are influenced by forces outside these boundaries.

  20. 20. Rituals are dynamic, consisting minimally of internal processes and external functions.

  21. 21. Ritual can be made to appear static, but only with enormous outlays of energy to disguise or control their dynamics.

  22. 22. Rituals are social. They vary in the degree of solitude permitted or sociality required.

  23. 23. The degree to which rituals bind participants varies, but no ritualist escapes socialization, even though anyone can attempt to minimize or counteract it. Even solitary anti- or counter-rituals, like imagined or mental rituals, are inescapably social, because humans are enculturated. Society is not only around ritualists but in them.

  24. 24. Rituals are usually performed in groups, but may be enacted by individuals as well.

  25. 25. The more obviously rituals appear to be made up by individuals, the more they seem fictive (or theatricalized), therefore not necessary or obligatory.

  26. 26. Rituals are temporal. They change across time even though they vary in the degree to which they embrace or inhibit change. Denials of a ritual’s historicity notwithstanding, rituals bear the marks of their course through time, whether or not these marks are noticed or written about. Rituals emerge, persist, decline, or revive through time; they have lifespans, maybe even patterned life cycles.

  27. 27. Rituals are events. They are punctual, happening at specific points in time and having a limited duration even if they vary in the degree to which their temporal markers are made explicit.

  28. 28. Rituals are processual. They unfold in phrases varying in the degree to which their constitutive rhythms are fast or slow, many or few. Although ritual actors and ritual observers may differ in how they divide up the phases, some actions precede others. The temporal flow of a ritual can be variously parsed into units: rising and falling; focalizing and diffusing; beginning, middle, end; separation, transition, incorporation; preparation, performance, aftermath, and so on.

  29. 29. Rituals are spatial. Even though rituals vary in the degree to which they are attuned to their environments, they are locally and geographically marked even if exported. You can step into a ritual; you can step out of it. However universal a ritual’s claims and aspirations, however much global forces may have an impact on it, and however cosmic its influences and effects, it transpires here and/or there, not everywhere. However much internet rituals happen in cyberspace, people sitting in front of computer screens sit somewhere.

  30. 30. Rituals are elemental. They can be factored into or built out of modular units. Rituals are assemblages of elements with different functions, some of which are central and others of which are peripheral. Consequently, rituals can sometimes be rejigged, dismembered, or dispersed. Some of a ritual’s elements can be modified, substituted for others, or even omitted; some cannot. Although the whole can be factored into parts, neither participants nor scholars may agree on how to name them.

  31. 31. A ritual has both a surface and depth. Not everything about a ritual meets the eye. Rituals are allusive, often evoking multiple, not always consistent, meanings, and these may attach to the whole or to specific elements of a ritual.

  32. 32. Rituals, deploying their constituent elements as symbols, can become carriers of meaning. Meanings are, in varying degrees, intrinsically or extrinsically related to their symbolic vehicles, but not everything in a ritual is symbolic.

  33. 33. Ritual meanings are sometimes wordlike, but just as often music- or dancelike in the way they mean.

  34. 34. Ritual performances have a front and back. Not everyone can witness everything. Ritual traditions vary in the degree to which they permit spectators, also in the degree to which participants think that witnessing or being witnessed matters.

  35. 35. Rituals are patterned assemblages. Although most rituals shows signs of randomness or arbitrariness, they also exhibit design even though there is typically no named designer. Rituals vary in the degree to which they are prestructured, but contours of design emerge even in improvised ritual events.

  36. 36. Rituals can ramify into systems, and those that persist across time become traditions. Systems and traditions consume resources but they also amplify effects.

  37. 37. Rituals are of different types, but they have not been cogently classified.

  38. 38. One type of ritual can be nested into or braided with another, e.g., magic in liturgy, celebration in ceremony. Rituals can contain other kinds of actions, and other kinds of actions can contain rituals.

  39. 39. Religious rituals: are grounded in ultimate concerns; posit more-than-human actors; have the least permeable, most vigorously defended boundaries; are often surrounded by obfuscation, mystification, and other processes that inhibit criticism.

  40. 40. Ritual intentions (goals, aims) are usually articulated by practitioners whereas functions (consequences, effects) are often posited by observers.

  41. 41. Rituals are not givens. They don’t only emerge anonymously from history or tradition; they are also made, even made up, sometimes by known groups or individuals.

  42. 42. Rituals, emerging from multiple sources, are maintained and developed under multiple influences. Rituals rarely are the effect of a single cause or the cause of easily verifiable effects.

  43. 43. Since rituals work in multiple ways, on multiple levels, doing multiple things, often in indirect ways, a one-dimensional explanation cannot adequately account for a ritual.

  44. 44. A ritual may generate, facilitate, or inhibit a dominant tone, or mood; it may also orchestrate multiple mood swings or tone shifts.

  45. 45. Rituals do not only claim or declare. They may also suggest, question, command, assert, exclaim, play with, or treat “as if.”

  46. 46. Ritual studies theories are culturally and historically embedded; therefore, they are more critically appropriated when this embedding is taken into consideration.

  47. 47. Academic scenarios frame, if not drive, research and teaching.

  48. 48. Theories are imagined as surely as they are reasoned out or inferred.

  49. 49. Methods are not only followed but also performed.

  50. 50. Definitions of “ritual” (or any other key term) separate discipline from discipline and scholar from scholar, but definitions can also be written to connect.

  51. 51. Cases are particular but also articulated or framed using generalized terms, concepts, and assumptions, thus they imply methodlike procedures and theorylike premises.

  52. 52. Rituals can be conceptualized and studied in varying degrees of abstraction or concreteness, ranging from “ritual” in general to “so-and-so’s experience of such-and-such a ritual” (at a specific place and time). Between these two kinds of research are middle-level abstractions such as “the” ritual (e.g., the Pueblo Corn Dance, Buddhist meditation, Yom Kippur).

  53. 53. Ritual studies both benefits and suffers from the variety of approaches represented by different academic departments and programs, e.g., psychology, political science, religious studies, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, gender studies, cultural studies, organizational studies, communications studies, and the fine arts.