The Archetypal Actions of Ritual: A Theory of Ritual Illustrated by the Jain Rite of Worship

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What happens in religious traditions when the nature of the ritual is questioned, but the practice of performing rituals is not itself abandoned? How is it that people can accomplish ritual successfully without belief, and even without attributing any meaning to it? This book draws on the authors' observations of such reactions among Jains in western India, and asks what they can tell us about ritual as a mode of human action. Most anthropologists have assumed that ritual is a special kind of happening. The authors argue that we should not define ritual as a distinct type of event but instead look at ritualization, which is a modification of action. What is distinctive about actions which are ritualized? This book proposes a new theory to analyse the qualities which ritualization gives to a wide and disparate range of actions and events. The authors reject the common view that ritual carries intrinsic meaning, and stress the reasons why participants may or may not give meaning to ritual acts. They draw on insights from the philosophy of action, cognitive psychology, and phenomenology, to explore the paradox that in ritual, actors both are and are not the authors of their acts. The book explores the implications for anthropology of this new theory of ritual, with discussions of the relation between texts and action, the importance of bodily experience in ritual enactment, and the sense of selfhood as it is affected by ritual.

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Jainism and the Puja Ritual
What Kind of Theory Do We Need?

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About the author (1994)

Caroline Humphrey, Fellow, King's College, Cambridge. James Laidlaw, Senior Research Fellow, King's College, Cambridge.

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