Comparative Studies of Ideas and Cultures (3rd level)Module:
Course code: 68
Year of study: Brez letnika
Workload: lectures 60 hours, seminar 30 hours
Course type: general elective
Learning and teaching methods: lectures, discussion classes
This course familiarizes students with the concepts of rituality and ritual practices from a historical, theoretical, and empirical perspective. The first part introduces students to the history of these concepts and research on them; the second part focuses on a critical overview of topics and theoretical bases by various authors; and the third part tests students’ range of knowledge through fieldwork and a term paper or article for publication.
The main learning objectives of this course include understanding the role of rituals in society and interpreting ritual behavior by using various methods and perspectives. Other relevant objectives include developing critical thinking; familiarizing oneself with palimpsestism and intertextuality; exploring the dynamics of various public, media, official, and subcultural discourses; and studying the interplay of creativity (from uniqueness to seriality).
In this course, students learn how to read and understand texts on rituals and identify configurations, processualism, and duration, as well as how to use various research techniques in the field in line with the theoretical research premise selected. In the process, they learn that, at the etic level, theoretical concepts, the research concept, and results depend on a specific research paradigm, whereas at the emic level ritual practices usually depend on the interplay between various discourses at the local, regional, media, national, and global levels. Research on rituality makes it possible to study social and cultural dynamics and to explore inclusive and exclusive strategies and practices, and the conflicting nature and dialogism of shaping cultural identities and practices. Students are thus ready to engage in contemporary intercultural communication.
Rituality is a universal feature of human existence. Just as human society cannot be conceived of without language or music, it also cannot be envisaged without performing rituals or ritual practices.
The purpose of this course is to reflect on the concept, role, and importance of rituality in past and current societies and culture, as well as to use a concrete example to test what has been learned.
The course consists of three parts. The first part focuses on a historical overview of thematizing and studying rituals and ritual practices in Slovenia and central Europe, also taking into account the reception of ethnological and cultural anthropology findings established within a broader or global context. The second part involves a thematic overview of rituals, including their language, structure, and processes, as well as their role and significance in various contexts and situations. The third part is empirical, enabling students to develop research skills while carrying out research on specific selected rituals and ritual practices, and to test various theoretical research premises and practical methods.
- Historical overview
Discovering the Other means discovering otherness through “foreign customs and traditions.” The first or historical part focuses on various understandings and theories of rituality (mainly) in central Europe, from pre-scholarly ones (e.g., Santonino) at the end of the Middle Ages and the views of Johann Gottfried Herder to the first detailed thematizations of the concept of “ritual” during the nineteenth century (e.g., Gregor Krek). During this period, describing and studying rituality was largely about discovering the Other, or part of the exoticization strategy and practice (Fikfak 2008).
Special emphasis is placed on research conducted in the twentieth century, during which ritual practices (i.e., customs and traditions) became one of the most distinctive ethnological and identification elements.
Based on an overview of works published in Slovenia (Kotnik, Orel, Kuret, etc.) and central Europe, issues connected with rituals elsewhere will be discussed (Frazer, van Gennep, Eliade, Durkheim, and so on) as well as their mutual influences.
- Thematic overview
The second part reflects on the basic concepts of rituality and ritual practices, and thematic definitions:
Rituality: language, structure, form, process, and typology
Thematization of language: grammar and morphology, the basic elements of rituals and their structure, forms, procedural character, and typology (van Gennep, Rites of Passage; Goody, Construction of a Ritual Text; Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology; Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice; Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions).
Rituality: performative aspects, internalization, and “communitas”
Overview and analysis of the performative aspects of rituals and the role of rituals in constituting a community (Turner, Ritual Process; Tambiah, A Performative Approach to Ritual; Schechner, Performance Theory; Cavallin, Ritualization and Human Interiority).
Rituality and semiotics
Rituals as signs in de Saussure’s or Peirce’s concepts of semiotics (Parmentier, Signs in Society), as metonymic metaphors (Jakobson), and as heteroglossia (Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World).
Rituality, religion, and myth
Religion provides an important basis for certain forms of rituals (Eliade, Zgodovina religioznih verovanj in idej; Rappaport, Ritual and Religion).
Rituality, politics, and power
National politics is also reinforced through rituals, such as daily oaths for schoolchildren in certain countries (e.g., the US), flags, national ceremonies, commemorations of fallen soldiers, and so on (Kertzer, Ritual, Politics, and Power; Simonič, Kaj si bo narod mislil?).
- Empirical section
In the third part, discussions will be held with students to select locations and events suitable for conducting research on rituality and some of its aspects. By studying a concrete ritual practice, students will test all the relevant elements of various research premises they have learned about in the first and second parts of the course. After completing their qualitative empirical research, students will present their work as part of a seminar and submit their papers for publication in a research journal.
In addition to the main instructor, classes are also conducted by guest lecturers from various institutions in Slovenia and abroad. The topics covered by these lecturers include rituality and work, rituality and politics, rituality and sports, and rituals and festivals.
Work within the seminar classes entails learning both how to understand and research rituality; the students learn and test the material covered in lectures and consultations in practice. This is always connected with a concrete empirical study in which individual students test theoretical premises and concepts. The class takes place in the form of discussions accompanying the papers presented by other students. Every student must write a term paper to complete the class, and together with an oral defense this constitutes the main form of examination.
Student requirements and grading
- Active participation in class (discussions) and regular study of course literature;
- Taking part in fieldwork by observing and analyzing concrete ritual practices;
- At the end of first year: a term paper following research paper form and standards. Oral defense of the paper (and testing students on other material covered in the class).
Links to other courses
This course falls under ethnology and cultural anthropology, but also relates to courses in folklore studies, historiography, and the sociology of culture and religion.
Requirements for offering the course
- Staffing: an instructor and guest lecturers.
- Physical: a classroom with basic audiovisual equipment. Opportunities for field research.