This chapter is concerned with ancient sanctuaries and their spaces as places where rituals were performed. It discusses various aspects of sanctuaries and their materiality, and the ways in which reconstructing ritual practice and performance may be approached through archaeological and written sources, which give an insight into sanctuaries and their use. Different types of sanctuaries, primarily from the Roman imperial period (the late first century bce to the fourth century ce) from a variety of locations across the Roman Empire are considered. Furthermore, a number of cults that had specific types of sanctuaries connected to them are presented, such as those of the so-called Mystery cults of, for example, Mithras and Isis. Architectural layouts as well as embellishments, such as decorations and ritual objects, are discussed in brief also, in order to explain ancient sanctuaries as places where ritual experiences occurred. Furthermore, theoretical approaches, among those, the ‘lived ancient religion’ approach, are addressed in order to situate the ways in which such approaches may further our understanding of ancient ritual spaces.
Worship and its practices occupy a central place in every religious tradition, from Christianity and Judaism to Buddhism and Hinduism. Understanding aesthetics in religion requires paying attention to the role of the human body and its artistry in devotional acts, such as the use of paintings and sculptures as aids to prayer and meditative practices. Artistic means are employed in communal worshiping traditions; sacred rituals involve artistic expressions such as dance, song, poetry, story, images, and symbolic acts. This article examines artistry and aesthetics in modern and postmodern liturgy and worship practices of the world’s religious traditions. It first looks at scholarly sources that provide evidence on the aesthetic dimensions of liturgy. It then discusses the history of worship, whether communal or individual, in a cultural context, along with the concept of worship as verbal and non-verbal performance. It also considers the “art” of leading a worshiping community and concludes with a discussion of improvisation in religious worship.
Robin M. Wright
This article is an in-depth study of the cosmology and practices of assault sorcerers. While it concentrates mostly on indigenous Amazonian societies, comparisons are drawn from other ethnographic areas of the world. It shows that assault sorcery is an integral part of a nexus of religious knowledge and power, in which primordial spirits of sickness and sorcery are embodied in all manner of assault sorcery. The world of humanity today, according to indigenous cosmogonies examined here, is imbued with violent death through sorcery, the legacy of the primordial world. Prophet movements have often been associated with sorcery among indigenous societies throughout the world. Their principal objectives include the control of assault sorcerers, although the prophets themselves have often succumbed to their violent attacks or even deployed sorcery as a mode of defense against enemies. This world has been corrupted by the incessant violence of sorcerers, which the community elders, shamanic healers, and prophets have all sought to manage and control. What the future holds with the drastic decline of shamanic healers is cause for grave concern among traditional communities.
John S. Kloppenborg
Life in the cities and towns of the Hellenistic and Roman periods was organized around two poles: the polis or town, and the family, each with its distinctive structure, organization, membership, and cultic practices. Between these two poles there existed a large number of more or less permanent private associations, guilds, and clubs. A variety of types of ritualized behaviours were common in associations, many of them mimicking political or domestic rituals. Since many associations represented non-elite persons, politically disenfranchised in the cities in which they lived, the mimicry of political rituals functioned both to create social imaginaries that connected them to the polis and to cement affective bonds.
Paul F. Bradshaw
The limited evidence for Christian initiation practices in Syria and North Africa in the third century suggests ritual patterns that differed from each other in some ways but followed the three-stage structure of rites of passage outlined by Arnold van Gennep, even if the first and third of the stages were relatively undeveloped at that time. The fourth century saw the elaboration of these together with the temporal contraction of the middle or liminal phase in the rites of Syria and Milan, as well as in the variant practice of the city of Jerusalem.
Maxwell E. Johnson
To study the rites of Christian initiation in the early church is to encounter not one but several liturgical traditions in development. This article seeks to provide an introductory overview of the sources, issues, and problems encountered in the development and interpretation of the rites of Christian initiation within early Christianity. It proceeds in two parts: from the first century to the Council of Nicaea; and from the Council of Nicaea to Augustine of Hippo. Augustine of Hippo serves as a fitting conclusion to this focus since, as a result of his controversies with both Donatism and Pelagianism, a new article in Christian initiation begins and continues throughout the medieval and even Reformation periods of church history.
Richard S. Ascough
This chapter begins by briefly discussing the prevalence of communal meals in the Roman world and then turns attention to the form and setting of communal dining. Such meals were framed as semi-public events. While not everyone was invited—indeed, only a small cadre of the especially chosen took part—banquets were often located and structured so that they could be observed. Within the meal setting itself, seating arrangements were such that each participant was also an observer. The bulk of the chapter examines how communal dining rituals model the values of the surrounding culture while also serving to mirror these values back to the banqueters, thus reinforcing and legitimating these values within the group. While meal rituals have the potential to challenge societal norms, in practice, the replication of cultural values reinforce the dominant social order.
Daniel K. Falk
Prayer as a service to God by the people is one of the most far reaching of religious practices, forming a central part of the religious practice of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; yet there is still much uncertainty about how this developed within Judaism and why. Scrolls from Qumran provide the most important corpus of evidence to shed light on the critical period during the days of the Second Temple. This article presents a case study for prayer in ancient Judaism. It is organized around the types of questions being asked: questions of definition and classification, textual questions, historical questions, questions concerning context, and questions of ideology and theology. There is a good deal of overlap between these categories, but they are be treated separately for heuristic purposes.
David L. Eastman
Veneration of holy people was a significant feature of early Christian piety. Through a collection of ritualized practices, Christians both received traditions handed down to them and contributed to the expansion of the image of the saints. Thus, ritual was a central factor in the creation of the cult of the saints. This chapter focuses on three of these practices: (1) the telling of stories; (2) pilgrimage; (3) and relic veneration. It then argues that the cult of the saints functioned to create the image of the martyrs as a special class of Christians, to promote the idea that suffering was the mark of true Christianity, to implant a distrust of government officials in Christian collective memory, and to provide opportunities for certain church leaders to control expressions of piety by the populace.
This chapter explores the intertwined themes of pilgrimage and the cult of saints in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, highlighting similarities and differences as well as issues of importance in the study of the tensions and moments of convergence that historically existed between the faiths during the Middle Ages down to the present. Current events have resulted in an existential threat to holy places and long-established customs and traditions throughout the Middle East and, indeed, to the destruction of shrines in Syria and Iraq. To that end this study explores the varieties of holy persons and places that believers of the Abrahamic faiths venerated. While traditional approaches to the cult of saints and pilgrimage and, indeed, other related themes are useful in highlighting certain relationships, a more concise framework that considers the Abrahamic dimensions of both phenomena is needed which is sensitive to the historical context and the ritual aspects.
Anne-Marie (Anjali) Gaston and Tony Gaston
Dance has accompanied religious ceremonies and sacred rites since prehistoric times. Most religions have included dance as part of worship at some period or in some places. However, because of its association with fertility and its celebration of the body, dance has equally been proscribed at times in different religions. Historical data on the use of dance in Christian rites indicate wide fluctuations in acceptance over the centuries. The presentation of dance as part of worship was highly developed in India, where dancers were employed by Hindu temples for many centuries. Such dances were highly formalized and required long training, and were largely the preserve of a specific community (caste) of dancers and dance-associated musicians. In the last century the movement for Sacred Dance has sought to revive and promote religious dances, creating a diversity of hybrid and innovative movement styles. Dance as a form of sacred art continues to evolve and diversify.
The chapter investigates the ritual aspect of ancient Eastern Mediterranean divination. Divination is defined as acquisition and transmission of allegedly superhuman knowledge by different means and understood as a cognitive process linking human action with its (presumed) preconditions and its (presumed) effects. The emphasis of the divinatory agency is on the preconditions of the action, not on the effect as in magical agency. Examples from ancient Eastern Mediterranean divinatory practices, especially extispicy and prophecy and the Early Christian lot oracle, are used to demonstrate different facets of the ritual aspect in the acquisition and transmission of allegedly divine knowledge. Divinatory acts are often embedded in a ritual setting, and can sometimes as such be characterized as rituals, sharing important characteristics with the so-called special agent rituals.
Larry D. Bouchard
The history of drama and performance often overlaps with histories of religious practice, belief, experience, and thought. This chapter surveys such histories and gives consideration to religious stories and themes, ritual structures, dramatic forms (including “metatheater,” “epic theatre,” verse drama, naturalism, and avant-garde theater), and to theories of religion and performance. The discussion is framed by the question, “Is drama inherently a way of being religious?” That is, does theatrical drama—by virtue of being a hybrid of narrative, dialogue, and embodied performance before live audiences—inherently create possibilities for religious, social, and ethical meanings and relations? The question’s value lies in its power to catalyze discoveries, not in any definitive answer. The chapter concludes with recent theological and ethical views of how drama can open questions of self-transcendence and otherness.
L. Edward Phillips
While it is difficult to determine with certainty the habits of daily prayer among the majority of early Christians, we can with care determine some structures of time, gesture, and communal boundaries by examining the written records. The chronological and gestural structures of daily prayer show more stability than the theological interpretations of prayer, which Jeremy Penner calls ‘strategies of legitimation’. This chapter will show how strategies of legitimation are ex post facto explanations of pre-established cultural patterns. Christian authorities drew upon biblical precedents and types to impart theological significance to prayer and to standardize private practices of time and ritual gesture. Distinctive Christian identity was fortified through restrictions such as limiting use of the Lord’s Prayer and the kiss of peace to the baptized. More attention is given to popular practice than to ascetical/monastic practice.
The rapidly changing circumstances of Christianity between the third and fifth centuries are mirrored in the ritual changes of the church’s celebration of the Eucharist. The juxtaposition of continuity of theological expression in an act of thanksgiving, remembrance, and sacrifice with the multiple ecclesial political and cultural shifts throughout the church is reflected in changing interpretations, texts, and patterns. This chapter reviews the extant texts both about and from the liturgy in the three centuries in question before turning to three ritual and theological issues that exemplify the pressures of expressing and creating new ways of believing what is accomplished in the liturgical event. First is the development in understanding eucharistic participation as a ritual of Christian identity, and second, the embodiment of early Christian eucharistic participation in eating and drinking as well as the non-participation of fasting, which both contribute to the importance of cultic leadership in the development of ordained ministry.
Richard Finn OP
Many early Christians engaged in ascetic practices outside the liturgies usually studied as the major forms of Christian ritual. While not all asceticism took ritual form, insufficient attention has as yet been given to the ritual dimension of ascetic practices which served as elements in larger rituals and ways of life, and how the ritual aspect of these activities entered into their meaning and function. The ritual dimension of asceticism is explored through fasting. Acts and The Shepherd are examined for ascetic rituals in the second century; the focus then turns to the fifth-century career of St Simeon Stylites. Ritualization sacralized the choice of ministers, readied individuals for revelation, prepared ministers and catechumens for baptism, and consolidated identity in ‘stations’ and Lenten discipline. The distinctively ritualized fasting of the ascetic constructed his authority in collaboration with others, so that the wider society could benefit from his intercession and revelations.
This chapter discusses three out of the many theologies in Europe addressing the question of globalization: indigenous theologies, and transcendence through developments in ecotheology and monotheism. It suggests that what is needed to hold back the advance of globalization is a solid sense of personhood rooted in cultural identity, but not so narrowly conceptualized as to be devoid of relational potential and respect for the rootedness of others. This is a significant challenge when the populations of the world are in such motion and we are forced to face the questions of: “How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?” How shall we keep our sense of identity when everything is shifting around us? The global market, with its global “things,” can be a neat and easy answer for so many, but in fact it just adds to the sense of our non-being, our uprootedness, making us citizens of everywhere and nowhere—cheap and disposable like the commodities we so often buy. The importance of the person, the history, the belonging so central to authentic personhood can be so easily dislodged under the force of migration, even voluntary.
Guy L. Beck
This chapter discusses the theoretical and practical dimensions of music in Hinduism, including the philosophy of sacred sound (Nāda-Brahman), the aesthetics of rasa (“taste”), the rise of Saṅgīta (music) as a component of pūjā (worship) and early drama, the Sanskrit musical treatises of Bharata and Dattila, the development of rāga (melodic pattern) and tāla (rhythmic cycle) from early scales and Sāma-Gāna (Sama-Veda chant), musical instruments, bhakti (devotion), and various classical and devotional genres of Bhakti-Saṅgīta, including Kriti, Dhrupad, Khyāl, Haveli-Saṅgīta, Samāj-Gāyan, Bhajan, and Nām-Kīrtan, within southern (Carnatic) and northern (Hindustani) traditions. Music is essential to Hindu mythology, where divine beings perform and instruct humans in the gentle art that facilitates both enjoyment (bhukti) and liberation (mukti). Prevalent in sacrifices, temple rites, domestic worship, sectarian movements and films, music is invariably part of Hindu worship in India or the Diaspora.
This chapter provides cultural background for early Christian ritual through an overview of Roman sacra familiae (domestic rites). It offers representative examples from three main areas of domestic religious practice: (1) regular worship of the gods at household shrines; (2) rites de passage or lifecycle rituals, as illustrated by a freeborn boy’s coming of age ceremony; and (3) annual festivals concerned with interactions between freeborn and slave members of the household, and relations between the living and the dead as demonstrated by the commemorative Parentalia festival. These rituals reveal the importance of prayer and sacrifice as key means of communicating with the gods and securing their favour, and the principle of reciprocity which was a cornerstone of Roman religion. Sacra familiae helped to cultivate core social values and unite the household’s diverse membership in a community of worshippers who shared a sense of common identity predicated upon long-standing traditions and beliefs.
Angela Kim Harkins and Brian P. Dunkle, SJ
This chapter examines early Christian hymnody from the point of view of ritual and embodied religious experience. The chapter explores the possible ways that we can recover the ritual experience of songs from antiquity to the post-Constantinian Church, from a study of hymnic collections and references to the performance of these texts in the Latin, Greek, and Syriac traditions.