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Public Ritual

Historical Models In Premodern Europe, Ritual And State-building In Europe, Rituals Sacred And Profane

The study of ritual performed in communal life encompasses the wealth of world history and cosmology. Yet, few linguistic or conceptual categories of analysis address fully the diversity of ritual as an enactment of belief in the divine, inclusive of the mythologies of magic, associated with the liminal moments of human experience. For modern societies, the historical celebration of ritual as a dramatic enactment of the numinous (sacred) reveals a persistent trait among world communities to transform human existence in order to experience sacred presence. To this end, the stylized adaptation of religion, foremost for the Western world, is predicated on a richly variegated model of ceremonial systems that are centered on the formalized invocation of symbols, discourse, and gestures. Combined, the sensory experience innate in ritual performance extends to the history of communities, institutions, and the rise of the premodern and the modern state. The enactment of ritual, both political and religious, also touches on the history of law and the rise of modern theories of government predicated on precepts of moral obligation and the duty of obedience to ordained rulership that have historically been enjoined on individual members of civic communities.

Since the nineteenth century, the subject of ritual has been the focus of a considerable corpus of historical, philosophical, ecclesiastical, economic, and legal research. In the latter third of the twentieth century, significant contributions were also achieved through the application of models of social and cultural anthropology that link the transmission of oral, written, and visual texts. The discipline of art history, specifically the study of iconology, has further refined the implications of the sacred within the emerging loci of secular, national histories. Among the luminaries who have contributed to twentieth-and twenty-first-century research on ritual are Émile Durkheim, Victor Turner, Clifford Geertz, Mircea Eliade, Natalie Zemon Davis, Catherine Bell, Michel Foucault, Marshall Sahlins, and Pierre Bourdieu. Each has approached the modern study of ritual with reference to the liminality of human experience; Foucault and Bourdieu have addressed concerns of communities to protect civic interests from nonconformist intrusion. A fourth contribution also informs the modern study of public ritual. The history of ritual violence, a trait of premodern communities, has effected the transformation in theories of resistance to authorized authority as well as the imposition of penal practices that now characterize the modern state. The ritualized forms of violence and murder that have been enacted against minorities in the twentieth century reveals the critical paradox of limning-out a theory of ritual as a codified form of social communication: ritual practices have promoted the consolidation of human resources without supporting a universal model of human rights predicated on notions of diversity and tolerance.

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