Ritual and Emotions

Moving Relations, Patterned Effusions

in Religion and Society
François Berthomé École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales francoisberthome@yahoo.fr

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Michael Houseman École Pratique des Hautes Études houseman@attglobal.net

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This article reconsiders the connection between 'ritual' and 'emotion' from a pragmatic, relational perspective in which rituals are seen as dynamic interactive contexts and emotions as fairly short-lived emergent properties and integral components of these interactions. It emphasizes ritual's capacity to reallocate social positions by instantiating characteristic patterns of relationship, and the way particular emotions crystallize and express these patterns. In short, ritual emotions are treated as the sensate qualities of ritual relationships. From this standpoint, emotions feature in ceremonial settings not as striking experiences grafted onto practices and representations, but as constitutive aspects of ritual interactions themselves, whose properties of bodily salience and relational reflexivity both reflect and inflect the latter's course in a variety of sensory, expressive, moral, and strategic ways. Four issues relating to ritual and emotion are discussed within the framework of particular ceremonial practices that have been the object of much recent research: (1) the ritual expression of emotions in funerary laments, (2) the waning of cathartic models in the interpretation of rites of affliction, (3) the intense emotional arousal characteristic of initiatory ordeals, and (4) the self-constructive, affective dimensions of contemporary devotional practices.

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