Ritual Negotiations in Lutherland
The chapter is based on fieldwork conducted in Lutherstadt Wittenberg from 2004-2006, during the city’s two annual Reformation festivals (Reformation Day and Luther’s Wedding). The theoretical framework informing the chapter derives from ritual studies and performance theory; a broad assumption is that cultural performances are occasions of social-cultural reflexivity, negotiation, and even contest. The focus of the paper is on-the-ground tensions and implications surrounding the carnivalesque nature of Wittenberg’s contemporary Luther festivals. Carnival was virtually eliminated in Protestant Europe by 1800. In the second half of the twentieth century, however, Carnival has returned to European popular culture with a vengeance—and it has recently returned to Wittenberg, the heartland of German Protestantism—not as Carnival proper, but as festive celebration informed by the carnivalesque: costuming, satire, mockery, fools, masks, inversion, theatrical skits in the streets, folktales, dances, drum and pipe music. It is argued that contemporary carnivalesque festivity is a mimetic return to early modern and Renaissance era popular culture in order to critique official or high culture, process the dramatic social-cultural changes in the East in the wake of reunification, and inscribe popular values and sentiments into social life through public enactment.
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