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Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice 1st Edition

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199733620
ISBN-10: 0199733627
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Editorial Reviews


Throws down the gauntlet to cultural interpretations of ritual...Bell's erudition and command of the literature, especially in the field of anthropology, is most impressive. Her appeal for the centrality of dynamic individuals, strategies, and power relationships is powerful and will no doubt strike a chord among those similarly disaffected with prevailing trends in understanding ritual. American Journal of Sociology

About the Author

Late Professor Emerita of Religious Studies, Santa Clara University

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199733627
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199733620
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.8 x 5.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #464,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Christopher I. Lehrich on February 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
First of all, a little word of warning:
As seems to be generally agreed, Bell's writing style is more than a little dense, and while she in some sense introduces ritual theory, she really assumes you already know a great deal about it. Consequently, the book is simply not approachable unless you have already read most of the works to which she refers. If you've been assigned this for an undergrad class, or a beginning grad class, you have been cheated. Professors, please, don't assign this until people have already read Smith, Levi-Strauss, Durkheim, Frazer, Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Evans-Pritchard, Geertz, Ortner, Bourdieu, de Certeau, Turner, Grimes, and probably Derrida for good measure. This is a wonderful book if you know all that stuff; it's truly painful if you don't.
I first read this when I started grad school, and I hated it. Couldn't see the point, frankly. Bell's criticisms of various theories seemed worthwhile, but as she doesn't really propose a new method in the end, what's the point? So I dropped it happily for a long time.
Then I came back to it, almost ten years later, because I found myself delving very deeply into ritual theory, its history, and its future. Suddenly I saw what Bell is up to, and realized that this thing stands as one of the single most important contributions to the field.
Now how can both be true? Well, here's the short, grossly-simplified version.
First, Bell argues that pretty much all current ritual theory tends to cleave along a fault-line: thought/action is the usual form. That is, people DO ritual, and THINK something else. She then turns to a deconstructive approach, and demonstrates that this is logically nonfunctional. She's right, by the way.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is an advanced study in the nature of ritual as both an expression of cultural forms and a mechanism for transmitting and altering these forms. It synthesizes recent post-modern theories and field observations to challenge many past academic ideas about the nature of ritual, even suggesting that "ritual" is not a thing, but "ritualizing" is a practice with certain social and religious aims. It is very technical, and following the author's argument requires a lot of familiarity with the field. Despite the tough going, specialists will find this book brilliant and insightful, and no future theory of ritual will be able to ignore it.
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25 of 32 people found the following review helpful By William A. Brown on May 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
Of the many books I've read in my (admittedly limited) anthropological career, none have had as profound an effect on my understanding of what ideology is or of its relevance to social structure. The book is ostensibly about ritual (or "ritualization," as Bell comes to call it), but I think its relevance extends to ideological discourse or semiosis in general. Most of what Bell has to say about how symbols and ideological themes are exploited by participants in the course of ritualized activities can be extended to semiosic commerce in general. Similarly, the subtle political negotiation which is said to be accomplished through the ritualized manipulation of symbols probably underlies virtually all ideological commerce.
What I love most about Bell's book is its explicit critique of the Gramscian Marxist concept of ideology's relationship to power. Bell offers the rather straight-forward argument, "if your juridical or military apparatus is powerful enough to coerce a subjected group without fear of subversion or recourse, what need have you to whitewash your hegemony with ideology?" Bell makes the Foucaldian argument that ideological discourse does not disguise what needs no disguise, but rather what does; we encounter ideological interaction not when one group's domination of another is impregnable, but rather in cases where neither group can clearly dominate the other without considerable cost or risk, giving way to negotiation and compromise between competing free agents. Ideological discourse shows up in such scenarios because it is through the manipulation of symbols that compromises are rendered tolerable by lending them an aura of cosmic rightness, thereby redeeming the participants' negotiated lots in life and society.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By gringo perdido on February 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
It seems that people either love this book or hate it. I personally fall into the former category, but I understand the frustrations exhibited by some of the other "reviewers" here. She delves deeply into pre-existing theories on ritual, from early social scientists like Durkheim and Mauss as well as newer, trendier people like Bourdieu, Foucault, and Derrida. It appears that she, along with most academics in the social sciences, is in love with the French (but she does bring in some Goffman and Geertz).
I read most of the book a few years ago when I was in the field and was somewhat lost at times. Coming back to it a few years later with lots of theory under my belt, I was able to cut through her (sometimes exceedingly) obscure and obscuring writing style to get at the tasty nuggets inside.
She reviews earlier ideas of ritual then proposes her own ideas, which intentionally fall short of an overt methodology (God forbid a postmodern scholar actually prescribe a methodology!).
It's good stuff, but not for the faint-of-heart or those who haven't been previously exposed to postmodern philosophy and at least a bit of ethnography.
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