Ritual: Ceremonial Act or stylized gesture used for specific occassions (Cunningham)

M-W dictionary: "established form of a ceremony" or a system of rites

Features of ritual:

1. Stylized

a. Marks of identity: do you know the ritual?

2. Symbolic (actions and objects stand for something else)

3. Rules

4. Repetition

Myth and ritual: Stories in stylized form

"acting out" doesn't mean "pretending to be" but symbolic of so as to

a. re-enact a mythic event

b. bringing the past into the present (Eliade)

c. be temporarily "outside time" (in the realm of the sacred)

d. bring participants in touch with their origins, with each other, and with the deity or sacred

Rites of passage: marking important transitions

"life-stage" events (Arnold Van Gennep), emphasizing social aspects of religion

a. Community witnesses important changes in individual's life: birth, adulthood, marriage, death

b. Initiation

c. Concept of liminality

Limen = Threshold

Seasonal rituals: Easter, Passover, Thanksgiving, Yom Kippur, Dwali

Religious meanings of rituals

1. Commemorative function guarantees conservatism

a. emphasizing continuity

b. Set actions, props, script

c. Repetition

2. Components of formal religious rituals

a. Adoration: emphasizes dependence upon deity/ presence of the sacred

b. Thanksgiving: gratitude for blessings/ gifts

c. Petition: requests of the deity/ strength in adversity / help in a crisis

d. Penance/Purification: acknowledging the profane

3. Challenging rituals

a. desecration

b. negation

c. reform

Ritual is a system -- a language -- for communicating the sacred and/or group values

Theories of ritual

1. Ritual actions are symbolic of beliefs or ideas central to the tradition

--Meaning primary; action secondary

2. Meaning arises through action

--Action primary; meaning secondary

--J.L. Austin and performative speech (speech acts)

3. Ritual signals commitment to group and fosters cooperation (Sosis)

4. Rituals are techniques of transformation and may be either conservative or revolutionary (Turner, Driver)