Abstract or Introduction
According to Turner (1970:19), ritual can be defined as "formal behaviour for occasions not given over to technological routine, having reference to beliefs in mystical beings of powers. The symbol is the smallest unit of ritual". Even if one does not – as Humphrey and Laidlaw (1994) – accept Turner’s definition of ritual focused on a religious context, we might still agree that rituals are build up of symbols. Symbols in this moment are ambiguous, supposedly meaningful ‘metaphors’ that – so the debatable thesis of for instance Geertz (1993, 2004) and Bloch – need to be interpreted. In this essay, I want to follow three strands in the underlying debate. First of all, scholars such as Geertz and Bloch have taken over the notion of meaning as device in order to understand rituals – but added contextual dimensions to its sphere. Others have secondly dismissed the notion of ‘ritual as a text’ in favour of ‘ritual as performance’ (Lewis), whereas a third school of thought warns of the danger of the concept of meaning and symbolism per se (Humphrey and Laidlaw). If we accept the claim that rituals are made up of symbols, an approach that searches for the meaning of those symbols might be helpful – if the meaning is not imposed by the analyst. Rituals that are intended as a performative act, do not ask for a textual analysis, however. They are better understood with categories such as effect and emotion. If we add those dimensions to our repertoire of meaning, many rituals or ritual facettes can be made ‘comprehensible’.
- Quote paper
- Johannes Lenhard (Author), 2013, Is „meaning“ a useful analytical category for understanding the symbolism of rituals?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/209432