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RLG101H5 Chapter Notes -Roy Rappaport, Christian Cross, Instrumental And Value-Rational Action

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Kenneth Derry

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*not all rituals are necessarily religious
* rituals are just one particular type of bodily place in which religiosity is practised
*religion is practised in the lives people lead, their dailyactivities, and in how they interact with other
material things, such as texts, objects, and places
* something may be a ritual, but might not necessarily be religious, and possibly vice versa too
* anthropologist Maurice Bloch (1985), suggest that the study of religion would be better framed as the
study of ritual.
* emphasis it puts on the practice of religion, the things that people do, which the more traditional focus
in the study of religion (on texts and beliefs) has tended to obscure.
* significant problems with the term ‘ritual’ raised in the work of Catherine Bell
* In two very influential books written in the 1990s (Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice and Ritual) she
argued that the term ritual is itself misleading.
* y, Bel suggests we avoid the term ‘ritual’ if we can (although she herself
has been unable to do so in the titles of both of her books!)
* she suggests the alternative of ‘ritualisation- scribe forms of activity (or practice
* by talking of ritual’ we are suggesting that ‘it’ is a ‘thing’ with a nature of its own
* we look through Bell’s lens at ritual actions, we focus less on the ‘rituals’ in themselves (as pre-
given actions with a life 130 ritualof their own), and more on the way in which the people doing rituals are
making certain things happen
* ‘ritual’ is used to describe very varied types of behaviour, helping us try to understand things (activities)
that other people are doing-
* religion and ritual not something they are terms that refer to a diverse range of ways in
which people behave and act in the world
* Most of these writers agree that rituals are a matter of doing something, performing actions, particular
types of behaviour, and engaging in that behaviour in certain ways.
* Ronald Grimes, in his book Beginnings in Ritual Studies, suggests that ‘ritualizing transpires as
animated persons enact formative gestures in the face of receptivity during crucial times in founded
places’ (Grimes 1982: 55).
* For Felicia Hughes-Freeland, ‘ritual generally refers to human experience and perception in forms which
are complicated by the imagination, making reality more complex and unnatural than more mundane
instrumental spheres of human experience assume’ (Hughes-Freeland 1998: 2)
* . Catherine Bell (Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice) argues that ‘ritualization is a matter of various
culturally specific strategies for setting some activities off from others, for creating and privileging a
qualitative distinction between the ‘‘sacred’’ and the ‘‘profane’’, and for ascribing such distinctions to
realities thought to transcend the powers of human
actors’ (Bell 1992: 74). Bell suggest that here cannot be any universal definition of the subject, since
what ritual is depends to a large degree on the local context.
* Roy Rappaport presents the definition of ritual as ‘the performance of more or less invariant sequences
of formal acts and utterances not entirely encoded by the performers’ (Rappaport 1999: 24)
* Whilst for Victor Turner, ritual is ‘formal
behaviour prescribed for occasions not given over to technological
routine that have reference to beliefs in mystical (or non-empirical) beings or powers’ (Turner 1982: 79).
* ritual behaviour is a very important element of cultural life – it is, in fact, impossible to think of a culture
where there are no rituals
* most ritual behaviour are done unreflectively, out of habit, without even thinking about whether
there is any meaning and purpose behind the action, it is the automatic-ness
* .Ritual behaviour can range from something as simple as saying hello, or visiting a bank manager, to
elaborate ritual and religious activities such as marriages, circumcisions, funerals, and even national
events such as presidential inaugurations, memorials, or coronations
* in the sense of ritual behaviour being unthinking and meaningless, ex greeting, saying hello, shaking
hand, and asking
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* Worshippers taking communion in a Christian church are usually expected to be serious, and to reflect
on the significance of the ritual they are participating in.
* eight particular ways of looking at rituals.
These are: (a) meaning, (b) symbolism; (c) communication; (d) performance; (e) society; (f) repetition;
(g) transformation; and (h)power. The degree to which each of these elements is emphasised
in any particular ritual may vary greatly, but they are all significant to a certain degree.
* . Ronald Grimes suggests that there are sixteen different categories of ritual action (including rites of
marriage rites, pilgrimage, and worship amongst others
* Catherine Bell breaks it down into four (rites of passage, calendrical rites, rites of exchange and
communion, and rites of affliction)
* performance of the greeting demonstrates that we are acting correctly according to our cultural
*ex. example, we may hug our mother, shake hands with a friend, kiss a lover, or merely say ‘hello’ to our
* ritual is ‘meaningful action ex. Hindu marriage bride and groom walk around a fire not to keep warm, or
to stretch their legs after a lengthy period of sitting down, Hindus interpret the action as representing the
they will be walking through life together as a new couple.
John Beattie describes this as a distinction between ‘instrumental’ and ‘expressive’ actions (Beattie 1964:
Instrumental acts are performed primarily for their practical value: to achieve some goal, to get
something done.
Ex. a surgeon will cut open a patient’s body and perform an operation to heal that patient.
expressive actions are performed for more than thisobvious goal, they are done to express certain
ideas, or maybe to act out in symbolic form
EX. (i.e. through abstract representations) ideas or wishes that cannot be achieved on an
instrumental level.
*the distinction between the instrumental and the expressive is in practice quite unclear
*Ex. r example, if I drive my car to work in the morning, then that could be described as a purely
instrumental action
expressive statement: the car may be big and flashy, showing I am wealthy enough to afford a ‘good’
car, or otherwise it may be moremodest or run-down
* a wedding for ‘simple’ sake of getting married, but also to show other things : the love, commitment
between the couple, the sanctity of the institution of marriage, and even the conspicuous wealth of the
family whoare hosting the event.
* someone who attends a service ofprayer for peace may take part literally (instrumentally)
* distinction between expressive and instrumental action, is founded on a symbolist approach to religion
and ritual.
* ritual may be seen as ‘symbolic action’, and symbols are at the heart of rituals
* Victor Turner defined symbols as ‘the lowest unit of ritual’ (Turner 1967)
*symbols are more then material properties ,ex. visual objects, such as the Christian cross, or the Star of
David, (somet)
* special sound – such as a word, or a piece of music – may also be symbolic, in that it has a significance
which goes beyond the sound itself
* The associations between the object and the ideas are arbitrary in the sense that they are culturally
Ex. A piece of wood in a shape of a cross- what meaning does it have
*Christian may know why the eucharist or mass is important and the place within that ritual of bread and
wine is symbolic of the ‘body of Christ’ – because they have some idea of the stories and ideas that lie
behind it.
* psychoanalysis work on the assumption that there aresuch universal symbols
* Carl Jung’s (1978) theory of the ‘archetype’ is based on the assumption that there are some
fundamental symbols with meanings and associations shared by all humans.
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