Abstract and Keywords
This chapter offers a guide to the reader for understanding the nature of ritual studies as an emerging interdisciplinary field, with particular emphasis on its relevance to the study of the history of early Christianity. Three characteristics are singled out. Ritual studies is distinguished by: (1) a pluralistic approach to the definition of ‘ritual’; (2) an increased interest in theory; and (3) the application of interdisciplinary perspectives on ritual. The chapter also responds to the criticism that has been raised against using the concept of ritual and ritual theory in the study of past rituals and argues that ritual theory enriches historical and textual analysis of early Christian materials in a number of ways. Ritual theory contributes to drawing a more complete picture of early Christian history and offers a corrective to a biased understanding of early Christianity as a system of beliefs and practices. Finally, examples from the present Handbook are taken to demonstrate how the ritual perspective creates a platform for interdisciplinary collaboration and integrative approaches which both stimulate new questions and enrich old ones.
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