Discourse and Dichotomies: The Structure of Ritual Theory

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Acacemic Press Inc


Scholars formulate the interrelationships of religion, society and culture in a variety of ways, yet few contest the primacy of ritual as a clear and definitive component of the processes these terms are meant to describe. Certainly since Robertson Smith's study of ritual sacrifice and community in The Religion of the Semites, ritual has had a central role in the theoretical depiction and interpretation of religion. 1 Recently it has become less common to focus on ritual in exploring religion, and more scholars have begun to address ritual as an independent phenomenon with greater scope and wider relevance. However, despite this shift in focus and the variety of methodological perspectives employed, there is a surprisingly consistent tendency to describe ritual in the same way-that is, as a type of critical juncture wherein some pair of opposing social, or cultural, forces come together. Examples include the ritual integration of tradition and change, order arid chaos, the individual and the group, subjectivity and objectivity, nature and culture, the real and the imaginative ideal. Whether based on ascribed features such as `enthusiasm' or `formalism', ritual is depicted as a mechanistically discrete and particularly paradigmatic means of socio-cultural integration, appropriation or transformation. This article will address the theoretical depiction of ritual, sort out its divisions of human experience, and attempt to make explicit the questions that have been asked and those that have not.

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