Ritual Essay

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Ritual, a word which we are all familiar with, A word commonly used in everyday chatter. “Coffee, Shower, Coffee, Breakfast, Coffee, my morning ritual is an essential part of my day “ but is there more to the word than what we colloquially understand it to be ? Well the awnser is yes, yes there is. Ritual : “A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order” This is a direct definition from the oxford dictionary. Understanding ritual, defining ritual and theorising ritual is a major part of many academic areas, from religion to anthropolgy and to sociology and politics. Scholars have been studying Ritual and theorising relentelessly which, to no suprise, has lead to many different opinion and endless debates. In this article we are going to look at some of those Theories and attmempt to understand ritual and to grasp the meaning which these scholars are trying to convey. While there is an endless list of contributers to this debate I am going to concentrate on what I consider to be some of the more important theorists of this topic. Those being Maurice Bloch, Catherine Bell, Victor Turner and Arnold van Gennep.

Before we look any further into this topic it is probably a good idea to find out why the question of what is a ritual ? Arose in the first place. According to Bell “ the notion of a ritual first emerged as a formal term of anaylsis in the nineteenth century to identify what was believed to be a universal catergory of human experince “ ( catherine bell , ritual theory: ritual practice, pg14). Discipline of antropology by arnold van gennep was one of the first works that addressed the theory of ritual. It is said that Van Gennep laid the groundwork for modern study and interest in Symbolic and ritual studies. The romans defined a ritual as ' the correct process ' and in the vedic faith the defined ritual as ' the lawful and regular order to normal and therefore proper, natural and true structure of cosmic, worldly human and ritual events'

Rituals as we know them in the modern world can be anything from marriage, birth, funerals, oaths of alligence, royal cornations( think the Queens Jubelee ), presidential inaugrations and even Christmas shopping, a great excuse to go all out. Something as small and as simple as a hand shake is considered to be a ritual. As we can see not all rituals are religious but are are all religions ritualistic. Maurice Bloch argues that the study of religion would better be known as the study of ritual. In contmporary theories ritual has less and less to do with religion itself. Catherine Bell argues that the word ritaul posses to be problematic and misleading.The word ritual suggests that rituals can be an 'it' or a 'thing' where as ritual is in fact a wide rand of actions and pratisces. The term ritualisation, Bell suggests, is more appropriate when referring to ritual behaviour. Ritual leads to the focus being put on the ritual itself, where as...

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