Sociology Index


Ritual is an action performed because of its symbolic significance and its ability to evoke the emotions of those engaged in the performance. These ritualistic actions are usually clearly specified by the group and there are additional rules about who can perform the ritual, and when the ritual should be performed.

Ritual may be important in maintaining the values of a group or in strengthening group ties. Examples of ritual: communion, aspects of the marriage ceremony, or singing the national anthem before sports events.

The discovery of 70,000-year-old artifacts and a python's head carved of stone now represents the first known human rituals. It was earlier thought that human intelligence had not evolved the capacity to perform group rituals until perhaps 40,000 years ago.

The coevolution of ritual and society: New 14C dates from ancient Mexico 
Joyce Marcus, and Kent V. Flannery - New 14C dates from Oaxaca, Mexico, document changes in religious ritual that accompanied the evolution of society from hunting and gathering to the archaic state. Before 4000 B.P. in conventional radiocarbon years, a nomadic egalitarian lifeway selected for unscheduled (ad hoc) ritual from which no one was excluded.

With the establishment of permanent villages (4000–3000 B.P.), certain rituals were scheduled by solar or astral events and restricted to initiates/social achievers. After state formation (2050 B.P.), many important rituals were performed only by trained full-time priests using religious calendars and occupying temples built by corv�e labor. Only 1,300–1,400 years seem to have elapsed between the oldest known ritual building and the first standardized state temple.

A study of ritual, acculturation and reproduction in architectural education 
Helena Webster, Oxford Brookes University, UK - The Architectural Review 
This article presents the results of an ethnographic research project that looked at architectural students' experiences of disciplinary acculturation. The research investigated the review from the viewpoint of those who experienced it, that is, the students and staff, thereby arriving at an understanding of its character and function beyond that declared in 'folklore' or reified in texts. The findings built a picture of the architectural review as an important symbolic ritual in which 'apprentices' (students) repeatedly present their habitus, a notion of identity that includes cognitive and embodied aspects, to their 'masters' (tutors) for legitimization.

Religious texts, priestly education and ritual action in south Indian temple Hinduism 
C.J. Fuller, Department of Anthropology, The London School of Economics and Political Science.
This article, mainly based on research among the priests of the Meenakshi temple in Madurai, Tamilnadu, examines the relation between religious texts and ritual action. In the Meenakshi temple, all ritual should in theory conform to the prescriptions of the Agamas containing Shiva's own directions for his worship. Priests and their sons mainly learn texts by heart; it shows that education improves the performance of ritual because educated priests are able to recite texts when carrying out rituals, whereas uneducated priests can perform only the physical ritual acts. Nevertheless, education has virtually no impact on how priests carry out physical ritual, which largely depends on 'techniques of the body' acquired through practice. Through a critical discussion of Humphrey and Laidlaw's theory of ritual action, the article concludes with a discussion of the problem of ritual misperformance and emphasises its salience for the priests themselves.

Ritual and Rationality: Some Problems of Interpretaton in European Archaeology 
Joanna Br�ck, Department of Archaeology, University College Dublin 
This paper argues that the conception of ritual employed in both archaeology and anthropology is a product of post Enlightenment rationalism. Because it does not meet modern western criteria for practical action, ritual is frequently described as non-functional and irrational; further-more, this designation is employed as the primary way of identifying ritual archaeologically. However, this evaluation of ritual action must be questioned. It is argued that many other societies do not distinguish ritual from secular action. In fact, what anthropologists identify as ritual is generally considered practical and effective action by its practitioners. This is because different conceptions of instrumentality and causation inform such activities. For archaeologists, use of the concept of ritual has resulted in a serious misapprehension of prehistoric rationality such that 'secular' activities are assumed to be governed by a universally-applicable functionalist logic.

Ritual Child Abuse: Understanding the Controversies
David W. Lloyd, Esq., National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect
Abstract: The phenomenon of "ritual child abuse" has created a major national controversy. The general public is confused by media reports of notorious cases with different outcomes in California, Florida, and Massachusetts, and other states. Professionals in the fields of child welfare, mental health, law enforcement, and law disagree about the definition of "ritual child abuse," how frequently it occurs, and what we know about the individuals and groups who commit it.

Practice, Performance, and Experience in Ritual Healing 
Thomas J. Csordas, Case Western Reserve University 
Elizabeth Lewton, University of Rochester Medical Center 
The past 20 years have seen a florescence in studies of religious and ritual healing. Summaries of major themes in the regional literatures follow each section, and suggest that differences and similarities may be as much a product of theoretical orientations brought by students of ritual healing to their work, as of empirical features observed ethnographically. A concluding section raises the issue of therapeutic efficacy, summarizing the major contributions during the two decades covered by this article.

The Peace Ritual and Israeli Images of Social Order 
Arnold Lewis, Department of Anthropology Tel Aviv University 
In this article, a series of events associated with President Sadat's pilgrimage to Jerusalem in November 1977 have been organized in accordance with anthropological theory on the ritual process. The failure of the peace ritual to translate immediately into an amiable structure of relationships between Israel and Egypt provoked many Israelis to reexamine their perceptions of social order in the Middle East. This process, expressed in the struggles of the peace movements, was a central feature of the Israeli political culture in the months following the peace ritual.

Juvenile Transfers as Ritual Sacrifice - Legally Constructing the Child Scapegoat 
Jordan J. Titus, University of Alaska Fairbanks 
This article explores the dramaturgy of juvenile transfer provisions for the vestiges of ancient practices of child sacrifice that they reveal. Relying on theories by Girard, the social discord caused by young children who commit violent criminal acts is examined as a sacrificial crisis. Rather than deterrence or retribution functions, the legal response to children’s normative violations that involves transferring children to adult criminal court are presented here as an institutionalized and symbolic form of ritual sacrifice to resolve a cultural crisis and ensure societal cohesion.

Gendered food behaviour among the Maya - Time, place, status and ritual 
Christine D. White, Department of Anthropology, The University of Western Ontario, Canada 
Ethnohistoric and archaeological evidence indicates that the production and distribution of food was an important source of agency and power for ancient Mayan women. Although it is believed that elite women controlled food used in rituals, isotopic measures of diet from a variety of sites representing different environments and time periods indicate that they ate fewer ideologically valued foods than males. By contrast, non-elite women appear to have consumed the same foods as their male equivalents. This finding may suggest that women did not participate in ritual consumption of food in the same way or to the same extent that men did, or that food consumption was associated with gender identity. Preferential access to ritual foods by males ceases after the Spanish conquest but males continued to have more carnivorous diets. This phenomenon could be caused by the conversion of public rituals to private, the assimilation of Spanish gender values, or an underlying ideology that is maintained in gendered dietary differences.

Medicalization and Secularization: the Jewish Ritual Bath as a Problem of Hygiene (1820s–1840s) - Thomas Schlich
SUMMARY In the 1820s and 1840s the Jewish Ritual bath in Germany was criticized on the basis of medical arguments. Associated with this critique were demands for a change in the traditional Jewish way of life in general. The new role assigned to religion can be seen as part of a process of ‘secularization’. The criticism of the ritual bath was justified by medical arguments and entailed a demand for an extension of the medical sphere of competence, and thus formed part of a development described as ‘medicalization’. An historical investigation of the debate on the Jewish ritual bath illuminates the way in which medicalization and secularization were different aspects of the same process of the attribution of complementary circumscribed spheres of medicine and religion.

The Changing Religious Beliefs and Ritual Practices among Cambodians in Diaspora 
Chean Rithy Men
Buddhism plays a central role in Cambodian refugees' identity in the United States; ‘to be Khmer [Cambodian] is to be Buddhist.’ The religious life of Cambodian refugees in the United States is declining and being transformed due to the changing nature of community and social structure. This research paper examines a particular Khmer healing ritual known as lieng arak, which is performed as a therapeutic technique, framed within the complex belief system made up of Buddhism and ancestral worship. This study suggests that lieng arak ritual is disappearing in the United States.