Thursday, October 29, 2015

The same but different

Theories that have defined ritual activity as first and foremost the reenactment of historical or mythical precedents, such as those formulated by Eliade, risk a certain blindness to a group's constant reinterpretation of what constitutes these precedents and the community's relationship to them. As I indicated earlier, the evocation of tradition differs significantly in the early Christian eucharistic meal, the Roman rite codified by the Council of Trent, and the post-Vatican II folk mass of liturgical renewal. These liturgies display not only different formulations of the significance of Christ's last supper but also different understandings of the relationship existing between the ritual and the original event. Similarly, in each case a different type of community is constituted around different values and forms of authority—and all within a relatively stable liturgical tradition that presents itself as quite fixed.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, pages 123–24

<idle musing>
There's a saying in anthropology that two people doing the same thing aren't necessarily doing the same thing! This illustrates that truth. The actions might look the same, but they aren't being done for the same reason or with the same understanding of what is happening.

I love reading Eliade; I find him stimulating—even though I think he is wrong about 80% of the time! I think part of the reason he's wrong so often is because he offers a "flat" reading of the rituals, which is what Bell is getting at here. The community is formed by the rituals, sure. But, just as importantly, the community forms the rituals. It goes both ways, and that is something Eliade never considered. For that matter, do we?
</idle musing>

No comments: