Defining points of Rituals

In class on Monday we discussed what we thought features of rituals involved, and discussed Tambiah’s definition of a ritual as well. The class came up with some key words for rituals:

-Order, Communication, Repetition, Relation to Real World, Body/Physical World, Symbolism/Indexical, Relationship to Time/Place, Cultural Context, Acts/Words, and Other Worlds

            Tambiah had some other insights for key words to what a ritual might be as well that we hadn’t thought of, such as:

-Transmission of Information, Participation and Structure

In Grimes’s book I read “Constructing Ritual” by Catherine Bell, and learned even more about defining rituals. Bell especially discusses Geertz’s theory, in which he discusses how the meaningfulness of a ritual can be a cultural phenomenon (27).

I always thought that rituals can bring about cohesiveness to the community (as a feature of a ritual) and so did Geertz. When he wrote about a funeral as a ritual that “failed to function properly…Geertz concludes that the conflict which surfaced at the funeral was a result of a growing discontinuity between the community’s cultural framework of beliefs…’ (29) Not only does this show the importance of a community’s unity, but this also relates back to our class discussion on games and rituals and how perhaps instead of being looked at as winning and losing, it should be looked at as success and failure. Bell says that “Geertz wants to conclude that ritual facilitates change,” (30) but cannot say so because a failed ritual leaves the conflict unresolved.

I agree with Geertz mostly on his thoughts of rituals facilitating change, although I think just because a ritual has failed does not mean that a person or group of people do or does not undergo change, it is just perhaps not the change they were expecting or hoping for. Perhaps someone with OCD fails to wash their hands right away after they visited someone who had a cold, like they always do in that situation, thus the ritual failing. Let’s say they do this ritual for fear of contamination, and that this person with OCD fears that they themselves will get catch that cold. Now let’s say two weeks later, they still haven’t caught a cold, even though that person didn’t wash their hands right away. Perhaps they then went through a change, a realization that their fears won’t always come true if they don’t perform that ritual within a certain amount of time. So, even though the ritual failed, I do not see why one cannot undergo change.

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