Re: Religious Variation [Was " Biological = trivial?"]

Dwight W. Read (dread@ANTHRO.UCLA.EDU)
Thu, 8 Aug 1996 04:36:02 -0700

McCreery replies:

>Ritual is, she [Mary Douglas] says, likely to be elaborate where either
group boundaries
>or grid positions are important to the ways in which social life is
>organized. In mobile, fluid, eqalitarian groups (the Pygmies of the Ituri,
>for example) ritual is minimal. In egalitarian but highly group conscious
>societies (the Kibbutz? or other utopian communities), rituals are
>concentrated at the group boundaries, while behavior inside the group may
>be informal. The opposite situation occurs when group boundaries are weak
>but grid positions important (as, she suggests, in many Melanesian
>societies); here rituals tend to be both elaborate and manipulative as
>competition for position is the core of social life. Then, of course, there
>are high-group, high-grid societies in which both group boundaries and grid
>positions are highly valued. These are the societies in which rituals are
>most pervasive and elaborate. The Chinese, among whom I did my own
>fieldwork, are an excellent example.
It strikes me that the common theme running through these examples is the
role that ritual plays in defining and redefining boundaries. What seems to
vary is the location of the boundaries or where there is specification of
structure, and from this where ritual occurs. There is a kind of logic to
this; boundary definitions and specification of structure are not automatic,
and the extent to which they are "constructed realities" without an
inherenet logic (here I am making a contrast with what occurs via kinship
terminologies that define structure, but where there is a built in ability
to replicate the structure of the terminology from its logic) to that extent
they are also subject to challenge, incomplete specification, etc., to that
extent they are not stable in some sense (recall Snower's discussion of the
child who hypothesizes the chair as an animal and how he suggests that this
kindo of hypothesis needs reinforcement). It may be fruitful to go beyond
Douglas's typologizing and try to indentify what is problematic and what
function the ritual serves with regard to what is problematic. This might
also relate to McCreery's further comments about

>Or why Chinese temples and the rituals performed
>>in them seem to assume that neither revolution (on the mainland) or
>>modernization (in Taiwan, Southeast Asia) has occurred?

in that if the the problem the rituals address is, itself, unrelated to
events, then there is no reason to expect the rituals to respond to those