15 feb 2011

Ritual and Society

Émile Durkheim clearly saw ritual as the means which individuals are brought together as a collective group. Ritual funtions to "strenghten the nonds attaching the individual to the society of which he is a member"(...) the result for him is that the person is actually made up of "two beings facing in different and almost contrary directions, one of whom excercises a real pre-eminence over the other. Such is the profound meaning of the antithesis which all men have more or less conceived between the body and the soul, the material and spiritual beings who coexit within us". Periodic rituals reanimate people's experiences of these two selves (...) shaping the perceptions of the nature and the divine and the human, and embedding these perceptions and experiences in their sense of comunity and self.

Priority of ritual and the importance of its social role in securing and mainting the unity of the group. He argued that belief is the effect of rite, that action determines belief. Although (...) the cause-and-effect arguments misrepresent howrites and beliefs are parts of a coherent whole.

Malinowski granted that some public rituals had social functions but others did not. (...) he intended to define magical rituals as those that had the social function of alleviating anxiety.

For social functionalists, therefore, ritual is a means to regulate and stabilize the life of this system, adjust its internal interactions, maintain its group ethos, and restore a state of harmony after any disturbance.

Neofuntional Systems Analyses
Roy Rappaport demostrated how New Guinea ritual activities work to regulate the relationships between the people and their natural resources, thereby maintaining a delicate but essential environmental balance.

Ethology and biogenetics reflect strong concerns for origins of ritual as well as the role of such formalized behaviour patterns in human adaptation to physical and social environments. From this perspective, ritual is seen as a technology surmise that it enables the individual, to solve problems of adaptation.

(...) The recognition of separate selves (...) leads to the formation of ideological conviction that links one to a group (...) enable one to act responsibly and creatively in comunity.

(...)Through this secuence of activities, rituals effect the person in suspended "betwixt and between" state for a period of time, and then reincorporate him or her into a ner identitity and dtatus within another social grouping. The first stage, separation, is often marked by rites of purification and symbolic allusions to the loss of the old identity (in effect, death to the old self); the person is bathed, hair is shaved, clothes are switched, marcs are made on the body and so on. In the second or transition stage, the person is kept for a time in a place that is symbolically outside the conventional sociocultural order (akin to a gestation period): normal routines are suspended while rules distintives to this state are carefully followed (not touching the ground, no contact with other people). In the third stage, symbolic acts of incorporation focus on welcoming the person into a new status (in effect, birth of the new self): there is conferral of a newname and symbolic insignia, usually some form of communal meal, and so on. Initiation rituals provide the clearest examples of this three-stage pattern, although they particulary elaborate the liminal aspects of the transition stage.

Ritualized transition, changes in spatial location are used to designate changes in social identity. Moving people from one marked place to another (...) apperar to be acommmon way both signal and to effect a change in social status.

Van Gennep wrote "life itself means to separate and to reunite, to change form and condition, to die and to reborn".

On the other hand Max Gluckman suggest that rituals are really the expression of complex social tensions.

Mary Douglas refers to grid as the strength of the rules governing the interrelationship of individual roles and formal positions in a society.

Ritual is a form of nonverbal comunication (...) like speech it is generated from social relations and exercises in turn a "constraining effect on social behaviour"(...) it sings and symbols have meaning.
(...) it is used primarily to transform one category into another while maintaining the integity of the categories and the system as a whole.

Text from the book Ritual, Perpectives and Dimensions by Catherine Bell

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