Rituals are at the core of the social identity of all communities. Yet each society varies in its view of what is ritual and what is not. Understanding Rituals explores how ritual can be understood within the framework of contemporary social anthropology, and shows that ritual is now one of the most fertile fields of anthropological research. The contributors look at ritual as a special kind of performance, which is both an act and a statement. They discuss the views of Frazer, Van Gennep, Robertson Smith and Marcel Mauss, and explore the different aspects of ritual activity in order to question the validity of current theories. They also analyse specific rituals taken from a wide range of societies: they link Vedic times to the present situation in India, a Christianized Moluccan society to its still current pre-Christian social structure and values, contrast the different modes of participation in a Nuba village in Sudan, and describe the confrontation between Punjabi and English communities in a London Suburb. Understanding Rituals shows how rituals create and maintain - or transform - a society's cultural identity and social relations.
By examining these rituals, both in particular and in general, the contributors enable us to discover the ultimate and contradictory values to which each society as a whole is attached. The book will therefore be of great value to all students and teachers of social anthropology and cultural studies.