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Post-war Blood

Sacrifice, Anti-sacrifice, and the Rearticulations of Conflict in Sri Lanka

Neena Mahadev

Since 2009, in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s ethnic war, certain contingents of Sinhala Buddhists have lodged attacks against religious minorities, whom they censure for committing violence against animals in accordance with the dictates of their gods. Considering these interventions against sacrifice in spaces of shared Hindu and Buddhist religiosity, this article examines the economies of derogation, violence, and scapegoating in post-war Sri Lanka. Within Sinhala Buddhism, sacrifice is considered bio-morally impure yet politically efficacious, whereas meritorious Buddhist discipleship is sacrificial only in aspirational, bloodless terms. Nevertheless, both practices fall within the spectrum of Sinhala Buddhist religious life. Majoritarian imperatives concerning postwar blood impinge upon marginal sites of shared religiosity—spaces where the blood of animals is spilled and, ironically, where political potency can be substantively shored up. The article examines the siting of sacrifice and the purifying majoritarian interventions against it, as Buddhists strive to assert sovereignty over religious others.

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A Ritual Demystified

The Work of Anti-wonder among Sufi Reformists and Traditionalists in a Macedonian Roma Neighborhood

Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic

This article describes how an iconic mystical Sufi ritual of body wounding, zarf, was stripped of its mystical credentials and conventional efficacy amid tensions between Rifai reformists and traditionalists in a small Roma neighborhood in Skopje, Macedonia. The death of a sorcerer and a funeral event-series set the scene for acts of ‘anti-wonder’ and demystification by the Rifai reformists. Despite the history of socialist secularism and inadvertently secularizing Islamic reforms in the region, demystification signaled not the loss of enchantment per se, but a competition for legitimate forms of wonder. In addition to accounting for socio-historical context and relational forms of Islam, the real challenge is how to see a demystified ritual for its explicit intellectual capacity to stimulate speculation about itself.

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Sacred Spaces and Civic Action

Topographies of Pluralism in Russia

Melissa L. Caldwell

This article examines several key sites where Russia’s civic and religious bodies intersect in pursuit of social justice goals. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among religious communities and social justice organizations in Moscow, the article focuses on the physical, social, and legal spaces where church and state, secular and sacred, civic and personal intersect and the consequences of these intersections for how Russians understand new configurations of church and state, private and public, religious and political. Of particular concern is the emergence of new forms of religious and political pluralism that transcend any one particular space, such as for worship, community life, or political support or protest, and instead reveal shifting practices and ethics of social justice that are more pluralist, progressive, and tolerant than they may appear to be to outside observers.

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Kim Knibbe, Brenda Bartelink, Jelle Wiering, Karin B. Neutel, Marian Burchardt, and Joan Wallach Scott

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Assessing and Adapting Rituals That Reproduce a Collectivity

The Large-Scale Rituals of the Repkong Tantrists in Tibet

Nicolas Sihlé


Tantrists, non-monastic religious specialists of Tibetan Buddhism, constitute a diffuse, non-centralized form of clergy. In an area like Repkong, where they present a high demographic density, large-scale supra-local annual ritual gatherings of tantrists are virtually synonymous with, and crucial for, their collective existence. In the largest of these rituals, the ‘elders’ meeting’ is in effect an institutionalized procedure for evaluating the ritual performance, its conditions and effects, and, if necessary, for adjusting aspects of the ritual. At a recent meeting, the ‘elders’ decided to abandon a powerful and valued but violent and problematical component of the ritual, due to its potential detrimental effects on the fabric of social relations on which the ritual depends for its continued existence. Thus, a highly scripted, ‘liturgy-centered’ ritual (per Atkinson) can be adapted to the social context. The specialists of these textual rituals demonstrate collectively an expertise that extends into the sociological dynamics surrounding the ritual.

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Assessing Ritual Experience in Contemporary Spiritualities

The Practice of ‘sharing’ in a New Age Variant of Umbanda

Viola Teisenhoffer


Seeking to attain balance and well-being through what practitioners call ‘spiritual development’, the ritual practice in Paris of Umbanda—an Afro-Brazilian religion—is emblematic of the orientation that characterizes contemporary spirituality. In this context, regular public mediumistic rituals are aimed at transforming participants into beings open to the teachings of ‘spiritual entities’, which they embody for their own and others’ benefit. In this process, specialists and participants are explicitly and systematically invited to ‘take stock’ or ’share’, that is, to revisit the rituals they perform. This article argues that ‘sharing’, which may also be found in other forms of contemporary spirituality, is not only an exegetical exercise that participants must regularly submit to in order to assess how these rituals affect them. It may also be understood as a ritual device that the efficacy and reproduction of such practices depend upon.

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Jack Hunter, Annelin Eriksen, Jon Mitchell, Mattijs van de Port, Magnus Course, Nicolás Panotto, Ruth Barcan, David M. R. Orr, Girish Daswani, Piergiorgio Di Giminiani, Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Sofía Ugarte, Ryan J. Cook, Bettina E. Schmidt, and Mylene Mizrahi

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The Death Throes of Sacrificed Chicken

Triggering Critical Reflexive Stances on Ritual Action in Togo

Marie Daugey


In Kabye society, the commonest sacrificial rites include a device that may prompt celebrants to question their own ritual practice. As in other West African societies, the acceptance or refusal of an offering by a divinity is read in the death throes of the first chicken to be sacrificed. If the fowl does not die in the expected position, the ceremony is interrupted. Celebrants scrutinize the execution of the rite to identify the mistake that led to the sacrifice’s refusal, and they submit their hypothesis to the divinity. However, the resumption of the rite is not conditioned by the correction of the mistake. It is often sufficient that officiants recognize and reassert the rule that they should have followed. The case of a bull sacrifice demonstrates how the celebrants’ self-critical practice may promote a ritual effectiveness in connection with the dialogical and pragmatic nature of the rite.

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Jens Kreinath and Refika Sariönder


The Alevi cem is a communal ritual that is performed weekly among members of a major religious minority in Turkey. Although formerly celebrated exclusively in rural village communities, this ritual became publicly accessible at the end of the 1980s when Alevi cultural associations were opened in the urban centers of Turkey. Since it was made public, the cem has undergone significant changes in the internal dynamics of its performance and in the formal design of its liturgy. By addressing multiple audiences in its urban milieu, the performance of the cem reveals moments of ritual reflexivity. Based on ethnographic research at a cultural association in Istanbul, this article focuses on a cem performance that led to ruptures and mishaps in the presentation of some ritual acts. We analyze the ritual leader’ s response to these incidents and the theoretical implications of this account for the study of ritual reflexivity.

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Stacy M. K. George


Scholars have noted the variety of ideological and religious perspectives present in the Tea Party movement. This study addresses why both religious and nonreligious individuals may be involved in the Tea Party despite its cultural connection to ‘traditional’ conservative Christianity. The article explores Tea Party participation and commitment, arguing that group membership is sustained by the party’s ability to create interaction rituals reflective of Christian culture as an acknowledgement of American Christian values. The Tea Party frames its ideology as sacred, thereby establishing group commitment and cohesion. As a result, it is capable of attracting constituents from inside and outside of the Religious Right. By validating the experiences of others and creating a system of interdependency, the Tea Party has the potential to create group solidarity leading to collective action and exceptional political influence.