Ritual, Identity, and Emotion
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter is grounded in its own theoretical proposition that ideas become values if and when pervaded by emotions; that such values become beliefs if they confer a sense of identity upon a person or group, and that such beliefs become religious beliefs if they frame identity with a sense of destiny. It then analyses a variety of familiar and less familiar anthropological and sociological approaches to the role of emotions in ritual practices, including Mol’s theoretical discussion of how forms of identity may be sacralized, a perspective applicable to early Christian ideas of Jesus and of the status-enhancing faith-community. The notion of identity is also explored through the concept of dividual rather than individual personhood. One hypothetical application highlights the idea of betrayal as a frame for Paul’s identity status as an apostle, and of grace interpreted technically as a ‘substance-code’ of participation in the early Christian spirit-grounded sect. While also covering basic concepts of reciprocity, habitus, and rites of passage, the chapter is alert to existential aspects of ceremonial behaviour and remains appropriately cautious of any overly reified notion of ‘ritual’.
Given that ritual, identity, and emotion cover three fields of enormous depth, as does religion, this chapter’s modest aim is to show how selected anthropologists and some sociologists have highlighted the place of human emotions when seeking to discuss the nature of ritual and identity within religious worlds. This approach is more general than overly programmatic and while its eclectic outlook has emerged from decades of fieldwork, social survey research, and theological interest in groups available for direct study, it will also venture into more speculative theoretical consideration of some very specific New Testament themes (Davies 1984a; 2000; 2002; 2004; 2010; 2011). In three major sections, the chapter begins with a preparatory theoretical reflection on emotions to provide a stable reference point before the second section describes a mixed set of selected anthropological theories of ritual.
The third section then becomes more interpretative, developing notions of personhood and reciprocity of potential relevance to early Christian organization. The rise of most new religious movements involves some redefining of a devotee’s identity and of their mutual relationships expressed through the symbolic embodiment of their core beliefs manifest in shared ritual behaviour. In this case we propose that one way of considering early Christian identity might be grounded less in terms of the sharply defined ‘individual’ and more in terms of the concept of ‘dividual’ personhood. Just as the second section concerns numerous anthropological-sociological theories of emotions embedded in ritual activity, the third section takes a slightly different methodological turn to focus on the importance of how personhood is defined, and on some potential entailments of that definition for several New Testament contexts. The reason for this discussion lies in the fact that how we think of personhood influences how we consider the nature of ritual, of identity, and of the dynamics of emotion pervading each.
A brief conclusion acts as a cautionary reminder of the constant need to contextualize ritual within wider cultural activities.
(p. 56) Preliminary Reflections
This chapter’s approach rests on a series of propositions, namely, that as and when certain ideas are invested with emotional force they generate ‘values’; that when such values contribute to personal or group identity they constitute beliefs; and that if these beliefs frame a sense of destiny they can be classified as religious beliefs. Ritual then becomes significant as one influential aspect of formal behaviour through which these links are generated, intensified, and fostered.
This shorthand approach should not be understood as a cause-effect model, nor as giving ‘ideas’ precedence over ‘emotions’; nor should it be aligned with the old myth-ritual debate in anthropology (Segal 1998) While one person may hear of an idea and, over time, develop an emotional investment in it, others encounter an emotion-linked idea from the outset. In fact, this is how many ‘doctrines’ are first encountered or ‘experienced’ within contexts of worship. Societies at large, and religious groups in particular, host hundreds of ‘ideas’. In religious contexts we might call them ‘doctrinal ideas’, and over time these rise and fall in terms of their persuasive effect and popularity. The status shift from being a ‘mere idea’ to becoming a religious belief framing a group or person’s sense of destiny involves complex processes that always need their own historical, cultural, and biographical analysis to assess the sense of ‘elective affinity’ involved (Davies 2015: 60, 267). Still, this shorthand proposition on emotion-pervaded ideas, identity, and destiny may serve as an aide-mémoire during the following discussion of numerous theories of ritual that might otherwise seem rather unconnected. This scheme is likely to be useful when approaching the early period of a religious group’s formation and later periods of development, reformation, and revitalization, times when some ‘ideas’ are generated, appropriated, and become pervaded by emotion, or lose their emotional attraction and fall into disuse: there are many ‘dead doctrines’.
Just which emotions are involved will always demand contextual analysis, but a sense of excitement allied with fear and hope are likely to be much in evidence in salvation-related groups. Excitement is paramount for ritual-emotional analysis, for its key players, for arenas of action, for periods of reduced or absence of excitement, and for times of revitalization or sectarian innovation. New religious movements are hardly credible apart from emotional intensification of ideological visions of the world. One key theoretical root for such an assertion lies in Charles Darwin’s seminal work on human and animal emotions. His theoretical stress pinpointed the dynamics of excitement and depression embraced through bodily and communal feelings and the mind-linked feelings of attraction to ideas and to the satisfaction gained from formal explanations of the way things are (Darwin 1872). It is precisely from the interplay of embodied sensations with imaginative ideas that ‘truths’ sustaining religious identity emerge, frequently mediated by prophets and reformers during charismatically framed periods of creative change.
An apt encouragement for considering the interplay of ritual with human identity and emotion lies in d’Aquili and Laughlin’s bold assertion that ritual provides (p. 57) one of humanity’s few resources for solving the ‘ultimate problems and paradoxes of human existence’ (1979: 179). Their neuroscientific approach is one among many social-scientific approaches to the notion of embodiment, with its stress on the body and bodily activity as the dynamic nexus of ritual (Uro 2016: 154–77). Even so, the potency of coherence between emotion and identity was not as forcefully expressed as it might be. Others have pressed ideas of ritual as being a satisfying behavioural end in itself while still others prefer to see ritual as behavioural codes to be cracked (Davies 2002: 111–43).
For our purposes ritual is taken as intentionally patterned behaviour possessing associated emotions, typified in periodic human activity centred on values that frame people’s sense of identity. Identity is taken rather simply to denote a person’s sense of who they are as the human process of meaning-making is captured at the personal level, while emotion is acknowledged to be the feeling states of individuals described within a society by distinctive names. All are contested concepts (Asad 1988; Craib 1998; Fessler 1999; Rappaport 1999; Davies 2011). These admittedly simple shorthand descriptions offer a rapid way into considering detailed accounts of particular anthropologists drawn largely but not exclusively from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth century.
Theoretically speaking, we assume that there exists an interplay of ritual, identity, and emotion, underlying the fundamental sociological question of how an individual relates to society, just as the fundamental theological question considers how an individual relates to God. Moreover, such a dynamic process also depends for an answer on the pattern of emotions framing that relationship, with identity being a prime concept capturing the individual’s appropriation of social options. Different cultures and religious traditions set their preferred pattern of emotion and identity alongside cherished doctrinal ideas in practices that social science often describes in terms of embodiment, habitus, and gestus.1
Emotions are the energy-drivers of human life whose natural force is much shaped by society, with diverse family, work, leisure, and other interest groups contributing to this shaping process. The combination of a person’s own bodily energies, society’s guidance, and the economic-political circumstances of the day, is captured in the widespread stress on the bio-cultural nature of emotions that covers a broad spectrum of feeling. Just (p. 58) how groups name their emotional spectrum, and how psychologists in particular range emotions as primary, secondary, and the like, vary to some degree (Goldschmidt 1990). Many questions remain as to whether, for example, ‘love’ can be an emotion analogous to disgust, surprise, or fear. Much depends upon context and tradition. Issues of identity and emotion have held varying significance during periods of creative endeavour, applied interpretation, and crises of purpose experienced in the still young discipline of anthropology, as evidenced in the following selection of anthropologically inclined thinkers.
The following scholars, both familiar and less well known, are discussed in historical sequence except when the alignment of ideas demands inclusion of others. Key figures include Tylor, Robertson Smith, Durkheim, Hertz, Malinowski, van Gennep, Hocart, Stanner, de Martino, Richards, La Fontaine, Turner, Douglas, Mol, Bloch, and Parry, with complements from Weber, Gluckman, Marriot, Miller, Toulis, and some others.
Tylor: Sacrifice as Gift-Giving
E. B. Tylor’s magisterial Primitive Culture remains highly instructive for our topics, notably his penultimate chapter on ‘Rites and Ceremonies’ (1871: 328–400). There, the terms ‘rites’ and ‘ceremonies’ predominate with ‘ritual’ occurring but rarely, as in ‘the ritual’ denoting developed Christian liturgy, or when ‘systematic ritual’ describes a certain consolidation of practices (1871: 371, 384). For Tylor is certainly interested in the historical development and transformation of ceremonial as exemplified in the burial of the dead with an orientation of the feet towards the east, something he traces from the ‘ancient Greeks’, through the burial of Christ, to sixteenth-century ecclesiastical instruction, and on to contemporary Christianity (1871: 383). Similarly, with sacrificial behaviour, he describes the ‘transmutation’ of pre-Christian sacrificial acts into the sacrifice-grounded ‘solemn eucharistic meal’ (1871: 371). He then comes to a ‘natural conclusion of an ethnographic survey of sacrifice’ in the Reformation ‘controversy between Protestants and Catholics’ over whether ‘sacrifice is or is not a Christian rite’ (1871: 371). As for his own theoretical approach to sacrifice, Tylor links gift-giving with ‘homage’ in what he explicitly calls ‘abnegation-theory’ where persons acknowledge their own subservient status before the exalted nature of their deity (1871: 350–9). Here, it is interesting to see Tylor not only speak explicitly of ‘theory’ in connection with abnegation, but also to see how he incorporates emotional ideas into his study by referring to the difficulty he senses, and assumes his readers also experience, when ‘not finding it easy to analyse the impressions which a gift makes on our own feelings’. He certainly sees (p. 59) a value in ‘taking our own feelings again for a guide’ in order to ‘enter into the feelings of’ particular groups’ (1871: 357, 359).
Robertson Smith and Durkheim: Ritual as a Source of Social Bonding
While Tylor (1832–1917) was beginning to establish anthropology as a fledgling academic discipline, Robertson Smith (1846–1894) was increasingly using ethnographic information and the driving potential of evolutionary thought for his biblical and Semitic studies that came to one sharp focus in the ritual of sacrifice. As the most influential thinker of the closing decades of the nineteenth century, his lectures on The Religion of the Semites (1889) deeply influenced both Émile Durkheim and Sigmund Freud’s psychology of sacrifice in terms of community cohesion and human self-expression. For Smith, as for Tylor, emotion played a significant role in ritual behaviour, but with an increased affirmation of ritual undergirding a community’s sense of identity. In a passage presaging two later thinkers, namely, sociologist Max Weber with his use of the notion of habitus and religious mood, and today’s anthropologist Dan Miller with his ‘aesthetic’ of people’s lives (Miller 2008), Robertson Smith speaks of ‘the kind of religion which finds its proper expression in the merry sacrificial feast’, one that implies ‘a habit of mind, a way of taking the world’ and of ‘regarding the gods’ that ‘we have some difficulty in realising’ (Smith 1889: 257). Here ‘religion is not the child of terror’ but touches on a ‘joyous confidence’ of people ‘in their god, untroubled by … guilt. Devotees and deity are good friends, united by bonds that are not easily broken; they are “commensals” ’ (1889: 255, 268). Here in ‘antique religion’ Smith found ‘no room for abiding sense of sin … or acts of worship that express the struggle after an unattained righteousness’, but rather a certain ‘brightness and hilarity’ in worship, along with a ‘spirit of absolute confidence’ (1889: 256, 257, 263).
From his textual studies he pinpoints ‘blood’ as ‘a special seat of life’ with the flesh and blood of sacrifices fostering ‘civil virtues of loyalty and devotion to a man’s fellows’ (Smith 1889: 233, 267). In language that soon appealed to Durkheim, he described ritual experience as a ‘cement’ creating a ‘living bond’ between people (1889: 313). Notably in terms of the corpse and death ritual, Smith’s concern with emotion and identity adopted another pragmatic theoretical idiom depicting sanctity as a ‘polar force’ that ‘both attracts and repels’ (1889: 370 n.1). Properly conducted funeral rites ensure that the corpse can no longer ‘be a source of danger to the living’ but rather of blessing (1889: 370). Blessing belongs to active participation in society. Drawing on his interest in comparative studies of religion, Smith deals with the notions of ‘taboo’ and of the ‘unclean’ in a way that makes it obvious why Mary Douglas would later deem Robertson Smith to be the father of social anthropology. For he develops the clear argument that ‘ritual purity’ has ‘nothing to do with physical cleanliness … [but] removes a taboo and enables the person purified to mingle freely in the ordinary life of his fellows’ (1889: 153, 259, 425). This redirection of emphasis from the hygienic to symbolic model of interpretation would be enhanced in Douglas’s approach to cultural classification (Douglas 1966; (p. 60) 1970). In Smith’s emotion-pervaded theory of ritual behaviour, the notion of ‘force’ is used not only in general terms (1889: 25, 64, 76, 400–1) but is also likened to ‘electricity’ (1889: 151), and is, furthermore, discerned in the ‘force of custom’ (1889: 256).
Finally, it is worth noting that what later theorists would call a bio-cultural view of emotions and identity is germinally present in Smith for, although the theme of emotions is evident in his work, his prime emphasis lies with tradition or social convention. As he says, ‘Natural signs of mourning must not be postulated lightly: in all such matters habit is a second nature’ (1889: 336); for him, there was due ‘reason to be chary in assuming that certain acts are natural expressions of sorrow … lamentation for the dead’ (1889: 433). This, too, would be echoed in Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life where the domain of emotions as publicly manifest by individuals involves clear social regulation as at times of ritualized mourning (1915: 400). Just as Robertson Smith’s notion of ‘the holy and the common’ underlaid his approach to experiential aspects of religion (1889: 140), so did Durkheim’s development of it as the sacred and the profane mark the nature of ritual and its use of sacred objects (1915: 38–42). Durkheim’s transformed version of Smith’s emphasis on ritual became much better known in twentieth-century social science as, for example, in Marvin and Ingle’s (1999) analysis of military and presidential rituals in the USA, notably in seeing the military death of young Americans as its own form of nation-integrating sacrifice.
Hertz: Death Rites and Emotions
It was, however, in Durkheim’s nephew Robert Hertz (1881–1915) that the interplay of emotion with cultural practice found a theoretical focus through his analysis of death rites (Hertz 1960). His notion of ‘double burial’ described how the living separated the life-time identity of a corpse from its new post-mortem identity. In what would, decades later, be called the anthropology of emotions (for example, Milton and Svašek 2005), he drew on accounts of Indonesian life to consider the emotions felt, for example, towards a corpse or towards cremated remains. He saw how negative feelings of repulsion could turn into a more reverent sense of confidence, and how the decay of the body paralleled what would now be seen as shifts in experiences of grief. The flux of change and decay was transformed into a new sense of social and psychological order. Whether or not influenced by pre-existing Christian idioms, he could, when accounting for transformative death rites, speak of evil energies and of bodies becoming glorified. Though forgotten for some time (Parkin 1996: 87–122), his ideas influenced studies of modern UK cremation practices and theology (Davies 1990; 1995), US death rites (Huntington and Metcalf 1979; Grimes 2000: 259–61), and various anthropological ethnographies, notably by Maurice Bloch on Madagascan double burial (1971) and Jonathan Parry on traditional Indian funerary rites (1994). Together they have also fostered the study of the interplay of mortality with vitality, a theme of deep import for Christianity (Bloch and Parry 1982).
(p. 61) Van Gennep, Turner, Bloch, and Whitehouse: The Power of Emotion in Rites of Passage and the Modes of Religion
In a view of society quite familiar to Hertz, Arnold van Gennep (1873–1957) also saw the force of funerary rites as part of his analysis of ritual transition in social status. His narrative depiction of how a person may be conducted from one status to another through an intervening liminal period, along with its pre-liminal and post-liminal periods, has gained near universal currency in the notion of rites of passage that inevitably help explain the idea of identity (van Gennep 1960). Subsequently, two major developments of that perspective came with Victor Turner’s elaboration of forms of liminality (from Latin limen or threshold) and, especially, of the communal sense of shared identity or communitas brought about during liminal periods (Turner 1969). Maurice Bloch brought yet more emotional aspects of existential changes to bear on status change in his theory of rebounding violence or rebounding conquest with its idea that a person’s experience of a new status might lead to a self-appraisal that could create active opposition to what had pre-existed it (Bloch 1992). Moreover, he did much to draw attention to both the ‘emotional and political power’ of rituals while also noting the importance of attempting ‘to study particular meaning and general significance simultaneously’ (Bloch 1987: 272). Indeed, this double concern with the particular and the general stands as a crucial factor within theories of ritual.
In a broadly similar tradition, and allied with the power of emotion in ritual, lies Harvey Whitehouse’s two modes theory of religion that distinguished between the ‘doctrinal’ and ‘imagistic’ modes of religiosity (Whitehouse 2004). These involve their own patterns of ritual with the former corresponding to formal learning and teaching of large groups and their capacity for sharing their learned knowledge in, for example, evangelism. The latter, by sharp contrast, involves much smaller groups of people undergoing often painful initiation rites that seemed to create very powerful bonds and sharing of identity between people, not least in pre-literate cultural settings, generating that kind of experience that is, practically speaking, impossible to share in an evangelistic or doctrine-teaching sense with others (Whitehouse 1995). In some ways such experiences may be likened to forms of trauma, which some have shared together but do not or cannot share with others who have not undergone the traumatic circumstances. Many who have survived extreme privation have often not ‘talked about it’, as witnessed for thousands after the First World War, or many Jews who suffered in Nazi concentration camps during the Second.
Chapple and Coon: Rites of Intensification
Though much more in line with the milder ‘doctrinal’ than the traumatic ‘imagistic’ mode of ritual learning, Chapple and Coon suggested the notion of rites of (p. 62) intensification to describe frequent forms of ritual action that reinforce people in their espoused cultural values (Chapple and Coon 1947). This ‘intensification’ motif was developed by Douglas Davies (2008) as a ‘theory for religion’ to account for how people engage in daily, weekly, or constant forms of ritualized activity such as personal prayer. This offers considerable scope for anthropological study of ritual, both in its collective form and in personal and private forms of rite that draw on and feed into collective behaviour as in Jon Davies’s study of British war memorials as foci of ritual remembrance of the military dead (Davies 1995). While the Durkheimian tradition stressed that collective dimension and its capacity to enhance emotion, it is, today, all the more necessary to note the way a person may, for example, use online resources during private devotional rites (Campbell 2010). Public and private aspects of ritual now possess new opportunities for emotion and identity, including grief and bereavement, to be played out in increasingly widespread arenas (Hutchings 2013).
Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, and Lienhardt: Fieldwork and Ritual Diversity
At this point we need to retrace our theoretical steps from today’s online domain back to the fieldwork setting of Bronislaw Malinowski (1884–1942), whose early twentieth-century theoretical pioneering of functionalism linked the patterned integration of social institutions with sustaining rituals that answer human needs. The emotional dynamics in his work touch such daily needs, with fear and anxiety being key features associated with risky human activity. Though more inclined to speak of ‘social ideas’ as ‘embodied in institutions or traditional texts’ rather than in persons or bodies as such (Malinowski 1973 : 245), Malinowski certainly accords emotion a highly significant role, notably in what he describes as ‘the religious act par excellence, the ceremonial of death’ with his essay ‘Magic, Science and Religion’, for example, furnishing an extended account of ‘ritual acts and beliefs’ that help ‘bridge the gaps in difficult situations’ (1973 : 80, 90). The developing anthropological commitment to fieldwork provided much opportunity for encountering the feelings of others and for considering the complexity of ritual and its aligned symbolic thought as in Evans-Pritchard’s magisterial account of Azande witchcraft and oracles (1937) or in ritual-symbolism among the cattle-herding Nuer (Evans-Pritchard 1956). In these contexts we see how ritual in a variety of forms not only deals with issues of life’s hardship, local justice, ethics, and decision-making, but also reveals a certain proclivity for creativity in poetic and metaphorical play. Lienhardt’s ethnography of the Dinka explores just such powers of language in ritual invocation, as well as local variation and different degrees of participation in ritual events by local folk (Lienhardt 1961). In contemporary western contexts too, analyses have shown how ‘bystanders, spectators, invited guests’ as well as ‘outside witnesses and beneficiaries’ may be involved in ritual activities and experience them in differing ways (Baumann 1992). This offers its own corrective to my own emphasis on core cultural values and assumptions of a rather unified group context implicit in this (p. 63) chapter, and to the implicit anthropological presumption that ‘ritual’ is some idealized, normative, and inerrant activity. More recent theoretical work has focused quite precisely on the notion of ritual ‘going wrong’ (McClymond 2016), and we return to this possibility in the third section.
Richards, La Fontaine, and Douglas: Women and Ritual
Meanwhile, we remain with the interplay of emotion, identity, and ritual aligned not only with a Malinowski-like functionalism but also by theories favouring symbolic, and partly structuralist, analyses of ritual as evident in one of Malinowski’s students, Audrey Richards. She represents numerous women anthropologists who have made significant contributions to the study of ritual. Her emphasis on ‘the emotional atmosphere that accompanied different stages of rituals’ was, for example, emphasized by Jean La Fontaine whose own observations include incisive insights on how ‘ritual expresses cultural values’, not least ‘as part of a non-verbal communication system of communication’ (1972: xv–xvii). Precise definitions of ‘ritual’ were, however, not easy for La Fontaine, as evident in the way she distinguished between ‘ceremonial’ and ‘ritual’ in forms of behaviour aligned with three major female life-change contexts in Gisu society, namely, menstruation, marriage, and first childbirth. Though she uses the idiom of rites of passage for these, she saw the point of Max Gluckman’s use of ‘ceremonial’ as a way of describing ‘any complex organisation of human activity which is not specifically technical or recreational’ but whose organization of behaviour is ‘expressive of social relationships’ (La Fontaine 1972: 160, citing Gluckman 1962: 22). La Fontaine saw the possibility of describing menstruation and first childbirth as ‘ceremonial’ were it not for the fact that some ‘mystical notions’ were involved in them, albeit not as forcefully as in the marriage rite. Here degrees of complexity of symbolic behaviour along with some explicit engagement with ‘religious elements’—she cites both Christian tradition and offerings to ancestors—contribute to ‘ritual’ behaviour. Her key caveat for much anthropological analysis lies in the reminder that ‘technical’ behaviour, as in the making of things, as well as ‘ceremonial’ and ‘ritual’ acts ‘are arbitrary distinctions among phenomena that are themselves not always easily classified’ (La Fontaine 1972: 161).
Alongside this cautionary approach to social roles and status changes La Fontaine not only marks the individual as a ‘focus of a unique set’ of relations but also highlights the human body as the site of that set’s physical manifestation (La Fontaine 1972: 163). Fully alert both to Mary Douglas’s highly influential work in Purity and Danger (1966) and Natural Symbols (1970), and to Lévi-Strauss’s structuralist approach to the interplay of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, she also critically observed Victor Turner’s use of her own doctoral research. Still, La Fontaine retained a certain looseness of imposed classification, evident when describing the Gisu view of a ‘creative power that is sui generis natural’ in women and over which male control is increasingly expressed, notably in the marriage ritual. She also thinks that the Gisu male circumcision ritual is an attempt at ‘a symbolic creation in men of the inherent physical power of women’ (La Fontaine 1972: 179–80). (p. 64) These gender-linked factors need more than the emphasis I have given them here because discussions of ritual sometimes ignore them when theoretical issues become overly abstract and simplified in the process.
Hocart and Stanner: Ritual De-reified
Again, a slight retracing of historical steps takes us to Hocart (1883–1939), a contemporary of Malinowski, and a figure favoured by Evans-Pritchard. Hocart’s suggestive essay on ‘The Purpose of Ritual’, grasped the dynamic import of ritual as a means ‘to promote life’ or of ‘securing life’ (Hocart 1969: 46–62). While such a fostering function of ritual obviously embraced the emotional desire to survive and flourish, Hocart was keen to analyse both rational-intellectual drivers of formal behaviour and the emotionally demonstrative passions, whether of some social class or sect-like group. Significantly, his essay ‘Ritual and Emotion’ sought to avoid any ‘talk of ritual as if it were a thing in itself’, preferring to think in terms of ‘chains of action which can vary infinitely’ (1969: 64).
This is an important theoretical point given the potential error of ritual studies to reify ‘ritual’, isolating ‘ritual’ behaviour from the hundred and one aspects of ordinary life whose weave and weft it is the task of anthropology to describe and interpret. Here Marcel Mauss’s ‘vague but suggestive concept’ of ‘the total social fact’ (Goffman 1998) offers an apt corrective for use in many areas, highlighting the overall complexity of social life out of which moments or periods of ‘ritual’ behaviour may arise and from which they gain their distinctive significance. Chang-Won Park’s demonstration of how some contemporary Korean Christians engage in bible-copying as a ritual before death, in funerary rites as ritual at death, and in ancestral rites as ritual after death offers one clear example (Park 2010). So too does Sharma’s (2013) recent account of Christian identity and funerary rites in contemporary Nepal, while Parry’s (1994) work on Indian cremation set amidst a totality of cultural life is magisterial. In citing Mauss, Park recalls his foundational significance in identifying rituals of reciprocity as a means of understanding social and religious life. His ‘gift theory’ greatly helps interpret behaviour surrounding such reciprocal and ‘salvation-related’ phenomena as merit-making in Indian and Semitic traditions and, notably, in Eucharistic theology (Davies 2002), issues to which we return in the third section of this chapter that will pick up the fostering of life theme.
Another relatively ignored anthropologist of ritual is W. E. H. Stanner (1905–1981), a doctoral student of Malinowski, who was also deeply alert to human needs. As I have shown elsewhere, Stanner’s approach to ritual life presents an anthropological perspective that merges more private and public as well as social and philosophical-theological domains (Stanner 1959a; 1959b). He links descriptive phenomenology with ethnography to disclose that spectrum of human meaning-making that shades into notions of what theology and the history of religions might call ‘salvation’ (Davies 1984a). Stanner’s ethnography among the Australian Murinbata, including the punj rite of male initiation, clearly describes contexts of emotional experience (p. 65) that evoke a sense of the present in which comfort and refuge are aligned. Through the motifs of ‘nest’ and ‘wallow’, initiates are in a position to gain an ‘intuition of an integral moral flaw in human association’, becoming aware of the ‘refuge and rottenness’ of existence, a ‘covenant of duality’ into which a new generation is exposed to life’s realities (Stanner 1960: 106). To speak of intuition is important for our approach to emotion, identity, and ritual for it highlights the creatively imaginative powers of human perception in sensing one’s self in one’s given social world. Intuition also carries with it the individual capacity to form a personal, even an idiosyncratic, grasp of the way things are. Stanner aptly discusses that wider world that encompasses individuals yet in which all share to some degree. He speaks of that ‘perennial good-with-suffering, of order-with-tragedy’ that could, certainly, be identified in most life contexts irrespective of their being framed as religious, spiritual, secular, or whatever (Stanner 1960: 110).
De Martino: Rituals and Well-being
One contemporary of Stanner, the Italian scholar, Ernesto de Martino (1908–1965), separately developed an anthropological perspective concerned with human well-being enhanced by ritual by dealing with human attempts at ameliorating a sense of life’s inadequate instability through notions of ‘presence’ and ‘crisis of presence’. ‘Presence’ denoted human life-making sense while poised on the cusp of potential uncertainty, with ‘crisis of presence’ describing slips into chaos, and with ritual, as Ferrari describes it, dealing with ‘the negative’ to ‘normalize it’ (2012: 92). De Martino, whose influential Italian ethnographic studies have gained but little purchase in the Anglophone world, began life as a philosopher who, as with some late nineteenth-century British classicists such as Cambridge academic J. G. Frazer, and Durham’s F. B. Jevons, developed strong anthropological interests. One valuable application of his approach led Nicole Toulis in her study of Jamaican women immigrants to Britain and their ritual participation in Pentecostal church life that progressively developed their emotional awareness and sense of identity amidst many personal hardships (Toulis 1997). Her accounts of church ceremonies as a means of intensifying an ongoing sense of personal control in life provide a valuable corrective to easy assumptions that rites rapidly change a person’s sense of identity, as in some theories of evangelical conversion (Davies 2011: 222–5).
Mol: The Sacralization of Identity
Issues of power and personal integrity amidst hardship also emerge in scholars’ lives as much as in the lives they study. So it was for sociologist and Dutch Protestant, Hans Mol who, in the same way that de Martino had to hide from Gestapo pursuit in Italy’s political turmoil in 1943, also found himself arrested and imprisoned in Holland that (p. 66) year. If imprisonment be considered its own form of political ‘ritual’, as with judicial trials and, notably, with Death Row’s capital punishment in the USA (Kohn 2012), so too for Mol’s transformed sense of himself (Powell 2015: 15). Further changes brought Mol to sociology in the USA and, later, to his own theory of religion as ‘the sacralization of identity’ (Mol 1976: 1). What we can take from this is the idea that when ritual participation in a religious community is such as to engender and foster an identity within devotees, then that identity has been ‘sacralized’, i.e. has come to be regarded as special and placed beyond contradiction. This intriguing approach proposes an interactive process in which things that confer this sense of identity are reciprocally invested with high status: identity-conferring factors are deemed sacred by the identity-gained devotee. Something similar might be said for the degree of impact of a rite on participants’ implication in a ritual (Quartier 2007).
Mol’s theory carries potentially profound consequences for the identity of early Christian groups and the rise of the idea of Jesus as divine or of the church as the ‘body of Christ’. Much the same could be said for Gautama as the Buddha, Muhammad as Islam’s prophet, or for Mormonism’s first prophet, Joseph Smith Jnr. The phenomena generating emotions underlying identity formation are accorded high consideration, praise, and even devotion, and do so through ritual that intensifies each in terms of the other. The Christian Eucharist, for example, intensifies the believer’s sense of identity and is, as part of that process, itself viewed with increasing significance. Such rites frequently frame and assert in ritual-symbolic behaviour what Roy Rappaport’s magisterial account of Ritual in the Making of Humanity designates as the ‘ultimate sacred postulates’ of a tradition (1999: 263–5). Such affirmative utterances would include ‘Jesus is Lord’, or ‘the Body of Christ’, these accord respect to the source of identity by those to whom they accord identity, and they are, most usually, emotion-pervaded and serve as beliefs or religious beliefs.
Weber: Daily Life as Ritual
One historical case of the sacralization of identity in relation to emotion and religion is Max Weber’s famed though disputed notion of the Protestant Ethic (1976 [1904–1905]). I include this to broaden the notion of ‘ritual’, for while not focused on specific ‘ritual’, he argued that ideological drivers can foster daily life, with Calvinistic doctrines of predestination constituting a doctrinal concept framing religious identity. The devotee’s careful management of life, often yielding a flourishing economy, might indicate God’s blessing and indirectly imply a status of one predestined to eternal life despite the essentially ‘secret’ nature of that divine information. Such life-management entailed both church-framed religious devotion and emotional control in world-based business-life. We could then argue that daily life becomes its own ritual form, albeit aligned with ecclesial ritual. My own account of the ‘Charismatic Ethic and the Spirit of Post-Industrialism’ echoed Weber in seeking a similar affinity, albeit between fellowship-based charismatic religiosity and life in service-based but increasingly depersonalized society (Davies 1984b). (p. 67) In other words, contexts alert us to potential and actual affinities between lifestyle and ecclesial cultural style and their complementarity of emotion and identity.
While involving further theoretical work, this final section adopts a more analytical approach than was the case in the descriptive account of theories in the previous sections of the chapter. Here two major theoretical themes fundamental to any approach to new religious movements are brought together, namely, personhood and reciprocity, with a strong emphasis placed on personhood and a brief and nuanced approach to reciprocity, not only in terms of commensality but also as betrayal. This brief consideration of personhood alongside several preoccupations of early Christian biblical texts will serve as its own example of how anthropological theories of ritual continue to develop and offer interpretative choice when seeking to explore, at some historical distance, hints of how early Christian groups might have operated. Echoing this chapter’s Introduction, I first re-examine the notion of the ‘individual-society’ bond through the theoretical idea that if ‘personhood’ be reconceived as ‘dividual’ (see below) and not ‘individual’, then a different perspective on ritual behaviour is made possible, and, second, this will also apply to the symbolic role of ritualized reciprocity.
Dividual Persons and Substance Codes
We could take our cue on personhood from many sources, including the influential ritual studies scholar, Ronald Grimes, who, for example, criticizes the ‘individualist value’ underlying a certain ‘initiatory fantasy’ driving some North American desires for individualized ritual, something he sees as potentially ‘deadly’ (Grimes 2000: 115–16). Our chosen focus, however, falls on an earlier yet complementary insight of anthropologist McKim Marriott’s (1976) notion of personhood’s ‘dividuality’. Marriott’s view has, for example, also been developed in anthropology by Marylin Strathern (1988) and in archaeology by Chris Fowler (2004).
Marriott’s original work on Indian material, as with Strathern on Melanesia, depicted persons as complex centres of interaction with other persons and with their material and cultural environment. Though, indirectly, reflecting Durkheim’s key notion of Homo duplex, the binding of social and ‘individual’ factors, Marriott goes further (Davies 2002: 28–32, 47). His Hindu-based context led him to develop the significant theoretical concept of ‘substance-codes’ to describe such phenomena as ‘parentage, marriage, trade, payments, alms, feasts’, as well as ‘words’ and ‘appearances’, while not ignoring food, cooking, and caste. For him, ‘dividual persons’ are described as ‘composites of various substance-codes’, many of whose elements involve their own ritual episodes (Marriott 1976: 114). Strathern’s ethnography of Melanesians similarly construes (p. 68) ‘persons’ as ‘frequently constructed as the plural and composite site of the relationships that produced them’ (1988: 13). Hess followed Strathern’s interpretation of ‘Melanesian persons’ being ‘as dividually as they are individually conceived’. They contain a generalized sociality within (2006: 285, citing Strathern 1988: 13). While the theoretical implications of this perspective are potentially very extensive for such issues as death, memories, and grief, the following brief sketch pinpoints issues of embodiment, identity, and group membership potentially useful for New Testament texts more strictly focused on the idiom of ‘dividuality’.
Potential New Testament Application
In terms of early Christianity, this dividual approach might interpret Paul’s self-reflection on mind-renewal as integral to his own shift to Christian identity and its embracing community (Eph. 4:23, 25). In Marriott’s terms, we might identify the substance-code of Christian identity as involving speaking the truth and not lying, of ‘spirit’ replacing ‘blood’, and of the dividuality for marital partners and for Christ and the church (Eph. 5:18, 21–33). Furthermore, dividuality offers a means of analysing the idea of ‘the body of Christ’ (1 Cor. 12:27), an idiom whose basis perhaps lay in the emotion generated through corporate assembly, worship, and commensality. The act of eating bread and drinking wine, which seems to have assumed a ritual-like form, provides a substance-code evident not only in genuine rites of togetherness (1 Cor. 11:17–22), but also in the paradigmatic scene of the night of the Lord’s supper with his immediate disciples, including its stark references to his body and blood (1 Cor. 11:24–5).
These substance-codes are, presumably, both textually and thematically allied to what might well be another, albeit counter-intuitive, substance-code, that of betrayal. For amidst these narrative-like exhortations Paul refers to that night of paradigmatic shared eating as also the night of betrayal (1 Cor. 11:23). To approach these texts in the context of the ‘coming together’ and to interpret them dividualistically is to see that betrayal ruptures the very nature of the substance-code’s symbols of shared existence. And this remains the case even if ‘betrayal’ is interpreted as Jesus being ‘handed over’ to his enemies. Indeed, surrounding texts are replete with ideas of receiving and giving as is also the case in other key descriptors of dividual Christian identity (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 13).
Moreover, whether in betrayal or friendship-rupture, it seems that Paul’s stated apostolic self-identity is similarly framed when he reckons to be the least among the apostles and unfit to be one, having persecuted the church (Eph. 3:8; 1 Cor. 15:9). Is he, perhaps, all too alert to Judas and Peter’s betrayal (Luke 22:47–62), and perhaps to the flight of the disciples (Mark 14:50), a theme that might even have echoes in the sleep of the disciples at the time of Christ’s great anguish (Matt. 26:36–46)? Is betrayal, in its own distinctive fashion, and through these apparently diverse forms, open to interpretation as a negatively valued, yet prized, behaviour, perhaps its own ritual form, given that it was a prelude to emotional experiences of grace? It certainly took its own ritual form, for example, in both medieval monastic Durham and in a recently revised Anglican (p. 69) liturgical form—the Judas Cup Ceremony—formulated as such for use on Maundy Thursday (Davies 2000: 74–6; pace Grimes 2000: 116). Moreover, for over four hundred years, direct reference to ‘the same night that he was betrayed’ lay at the heart of the Holy Communion rite in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. Certainly, betrayal allows both Peter and Paul to experience the other key substance-code elements of forgiveness and grace, and to allow love to become the prized form of behaviour. Paul’s claim to leadership status lies not only in having ‘persecuted’ and raged against Christians, but also in having ‘received from the Lord’ a sense of the significance of ‘the Lord’s body’, with a strong reference to the night on which Christ was betrayed (1 Cor. 15:1–11).
Other potential bases for the substance-codes of dividual Christian ritual and identity that can only be intimated here would include conversion, whether in Peter, Paul, or disciples at large on the Day of Pentecost, and in preaching and giving testimony. These codes and the framing notion of dividuality could be further explored in terms of Bloch’s rebounding conquest theory, as Jewish converts set out to convert Jews: their new identity seeking to transform their old identity with all the complexity involved within dividual Jewish personhood en route to Jewish-Christian dividual personhood. Similarly, Whitehouse’s emotion-linked ‘two modes’ theory of religion carries relevance for such practices as letter-writing, teaching, and exhortation, framed as a ritualized form of pastoring the emergent Christian community’s lifestyle, complemented by the ‘trauma’ of Pentecost or of Peter and Paul’s hostile experiences of apostleship that made ‘grace’ all the more telling, given their times of ‘betrayal’.
Inspired but also chastened by the often forgotten British anthropologist of Oceania, A. M. Hocart, who sensibly argued that ‘endless classifications, definitions, and distinctions’ are the ‘curse of human studies’ because ‘almost every single fact has become a category in itself’ (Hocart 1969 : 156), this chapter has adopted a largely descriptive stance to selected scholars’ views of ritual while trying to ensure that ritual studies is better served by contextualized perspectives than by forcing its status as a discrete category. Anthropologically speaking, highly focused behaviour that intensifies core cultural values always needs contextualizing in broader social, economic, political, philosophical, and theological aspects of community life. Our earlier reference to Weber’s Protestant Ethic and its anticipated sacralized self exemplifies just such complexity of identity and its networked field of ecclesial and ‘secular’ engagement. The quandaries of human life can, of course, always be approached from quite different directions, whether beginning with traditions rooted in Descartes’ method of philosophical doubt ending in his foundational ‘I think therefore I am’, or even Johan Huizinga’s (1949) approach to culture as ‘play’. Just which theoretical perspective to adopt when, for example, engaging with early Christian ritual life will always remain a challenge. (p. 70) Meanwhile, this chapter has contented itself with sketching some significant anthropological approaches to emotion, identity, and religion, always recalling that people’s hopes, fears, dilemmas, depressions, and excitements and desire to survive and even to flourish lie behind all theorizing.
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(1) While Max Weber used the notion of habitus almost in passing to describe both ordinary bodily behaviour and that ‘personality pattern’ desired by specific religious traditions (1966: 158–9), and while Marcel Mauss’s ‘Techniques of the body’ sketched habitus as culturally learned modes of everyday activities (1979 : 101), it was Pierre Bourdieu who most skilfully described and theoretically accounted for habitus as ‘internalized embodied schemes … constituted in the course of collective history … acquired in the course of individual history’, and which function in ordinary practical life (Bourdieu 1984: 467). See also Bourdieu (1977). As for gestus, or gesture in its English expression, this concept gained some academic status when both Talal Asad (1988) and Tyson, Peacock, and Patterson (1988) independently focused on behavioural acts embedded in ritual performance where ‘meanings unique to the person’ overlap with ‘meanings commonly shared by the group’ (Tyson et al. 1988: 5). I have explored these approaches in some detail for Mormonism and its embodied and emotional life (Davies 2000: 107–38).