This special section of Museum Worlds explores the entire process of repatriation as a set of rituals enacted by claimants and museum staff: a set of highlighted performances enacting multiple sets of cosmological beliefs, symbolic systems, and political structures. Some of the rituals of repatriation occur within the space of Indigenous ceremonies; others happen within the museum spaces of collections storage and the boardroom; others, such as handover ceremonies, are coproduced and culturally hybrid. From the often obsessive bureaucracy associated with repatriation claims to the affective moment of handover, repatriation articulates a moral landscape where memory, responsibility, guilt, identity, sanctity, place, and ownership are given a ritual form. Theory about ritual is used here to situate the articles in this section, which together form a cross-cultural examination of ritual meaning and form across repatriation processes.
Repatriation and Ritual, Repatriation as Ritual
Laura Peers, Lotten Gustafsson Reinius and Jennifer Shannon
Doing Ritual While Thinking about It?
Religious anthropology and ritual studies have increasingly acknowledged that ritual and religion are subject to criticism. There is still a tendency, however, to argue that doubt, skepticism, and forms of ‘critical reflexivity’ develop somewhere outside the ritual ‘frame’, in connection with external processes. In presenting this special section of Religion and Society, this introduction harks back to past research arising out of structural and performative approaches to rite, introduces the notion of critical reflexivity, and outlines the ways it is used to shed light on overlooked formal aspects of religious rituals. In order to stress the subtle connection between ritual action and (local) reflection on this action as evidenced in situ in the course of performance, linked with internal features of ritual activity, the article evokes two lines of empirical inquiry: institutionalized episodes of ritual assessment and ritual ‘accidents’ that do not necessarily imply ritual ‘failure’.
The Large-Scale Rituals of the Repkong Tantrists in Tibet
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.
Main Factors of Evolution
Larisa Anzhiganova and Margarita Archimacheva
Ethnic cultures experience great transformations that affect their sustainability and holistic nature. However, the traditions related to life and death are, remarkably, persisting. This articles focuses on funerary customs and burial rituals that are significant for the Khakass people. In this research of the Khakass burial rituals we bring together archaeological, ethnographic, and folklore material that reveals unique data about funerary customs. The article reviews the burial rituals in historical perspective and focuses on changes the rituals have undergone. It concludes with the summary of transformations in contemporary burial practices.
Jens Kreinath and Refika Sarıönder
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.
Moving Relations, Patterned Effusions
François Berthomé and Michael Houseman
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.
Death and Grief Rituals
Aref Abu-Rabia and Nibal Khalil
This article presents various mourning rituals and death rites as they are practised in Palestine. It focuses on differences in the mourning experience among fellahin and Bedouin Arabs but also shows certain parallels in their mourning and grieving customs. The article provides information on the prescribed set of rituals that Palestinians perform, beginning with how the body is treated and the way that it is prepared for burial. Combinations of mourning practices, which vary from rending one's garments to throwing earth on one's head, provide socially sanctioned expressions of grief and sorrow. Mourning practices differ between women and men: the former lament loudly and scratch their faces, while among the latter tears are neither encouraged nor welcomed. Parallels can be seen in these rituals with mourning for Palestine.
A Practical Experiment for Thinking about Ritual
This essay reports on the performance of an initiatory rite of the author’s invention, undertaken as a practical experiment for thinking about certain recurrent features of ritual action and, specifically, of (male) initiation. In keeping with an approach that sees ritual as the enactment of special relationships, this initiation, The Red and the Black, was designed to demonstrate the importance of interactive patterning both for the structuring of ritual performance and for the participants’ commitment to the relationships they ritually enact. Its meaningfulness, as well as its capacity to affect the participants’ perceptions and ideas, is shown to derive less from the (minimal) explicit symbolism it employs, the beliefs it presupposes, or the social functions that can be attributed to it than from the relational entailments of the coordinate interactions it involves. Framing, simulation, secrecy, imposed suffering, symbolism, ceremonial efficacy, ritual condensation, and the complex interplay of in-group and out-group perspectives are among the issues that are illustrated and discussed.
The Mark of Ritual
Over time, anthropology has lost the notion of ritual within the framework of exchange and of the ‘total social fact.’ Sahlins as well as Mauss interpreted the Maoris’ hau as a paradigm of exchange in which any event comprising a circulation of objects is but an exchange. The notion of ritual thus vanished, leaving in its place a long chain of logically equivalent transitive exchanges. Drawing on Orokaiva (Papua New Guinea) material relative to the competitive attempt of several religious factions to establish a comparative view of customary and Christian ritual, the Maori hau is revisited. This reading shows a clear contrast between what we must call ritual, comprising a hierarchic and mediated form of exchange wherein gifts are equated by virtue of the ‘spirit of the gift,’ and exchange per se, constituted by a face-to-face transaction of goods wherein equivalence is posited between prestations.
Beyond Representation and Meaning
Symbolic meaning and representational and reflexive perspectives remain dominant orientations in the analysis of ritual. While these must be crucial, this essay argues that a focus on the perceptual dynamics of rite, especially as these are located in ritual aesthetics, may expand an understanding of the force of rite. The discussion develops critically upon Victor Turner’s seminal work, suggesting ways in which ritual analyses may be redirected. The related concepts of dynamics and virtuality (distinguished from the cyber-technological kind) are developed, indicating that these may be critical for understanding how rites change or transform the situations to which they are directed. Ritual as a dynamic in virtuality that has no essential or necessary relation to the ordinary realities that surround it may, because of this fact, be greatly empowered as a force that can pragmatically intervene in ordinary realities.