Chapter 6. Rituals

A person is walking through an elaborate labyrinth that spirals all around them; light colored sand and ocean.
Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

6.1 What are rituals?

  • Takuhatsu: Takuhatsu is the word used to refer to almsgiving among Zen Buddhist monks (other Buddhist groups use different words). In most Buddhist traditions, the monks are believed to be servants of the community-at-large. In order to maintain their residency in a local monastery, the monks are expected to conduct religious ceremonies for the community, offer teachings, and serve. It is traditional for Buddhist monks to walk through the community and to beg for food (Carney 2016). This tradition allows the local community to earn good karma by giving a donation to the monks. Furthermore, this tradition maintains a relationship between the monks and the community because, if the monks aren’t serving the community properly, they will not receive any donations. This covenant between the religious leaders and the community is maintained where both rely on and support each other. In many modern American temples today, online fundraisers serve the same function whereby members are likely to give to a temple that is better serving the community.
  • Hare Krishna Mantra: The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a modern religious movement that believes in the Hindu God Krishna’s power. This religion is quite popular in the United States and has a big following in Los Angeles, specifically. Members of this religious group put their faith in Krishna for salvation and usually live communally. This group believes that they can achieve enlightenment through a variety of lifestyle changes and rituals and they believe that their religious chant that starts with, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare…” can be chanted in order to elevate the mind. Members of this community further believe that one can offer good karma to others by chanting outside; the belief is that all people and animals who hear the chant will be blessed by good karma. So, you may see members of this group walking outside in their peach robes and chanting and now you can understand that they are seeking to give you some good karma.
  • Mortuary Temple Worship in Ancient Egypt: Ancient Egyptians had a similar creation myth as the Judeo-Christian Genesis myth in that darkness and chaos turned into life through the emergence of the “Island of Creation” from the primordial waters. This set the stage for mortuary temples, whose function was to provide a home for a deity and perform daily rituals and offerings to the deity so that the king (pharaoh) would have eternal life and so that Egypt and its people would have prosperity (David, 139). The ritual included taking the deity’s statue, washing and clothing it, and giving it food three times per day. Here we see how a society’s creation myth directly impacted daily rituals in the religious community.

6.2 Rituals Can Be Secular Or Religious

  • “The Pledge of Allegiance” is a secular ritual. This American tradition asks participants to verbally recommit themselves to serve the United States each time they participate in the ritual.
  • Weddings and funerals can be either religious or secular. Depending upon the particular details of each and the participant’s goals, these rituals can include religious elements or they can have no religious elements.
  • A graduation ceremony is typically a secular ritual. During this ritual (which we will discuss at length in a moment) participants receive a new social status based on academic achievement.
  • Rituals embody the worldview, beliefs, passions of the group (Davis-Floyd 10). In other words, the motivating factors behind cultural traditions can be understood by examining ritual. Does the community value patriotism and allegiance? Does the community value self-sacrifice? Does the community value self-reliance, etc.?
  • Different rituals are designed to achieve different cultural outcomes. Whereas one community might engage in a ritual that is designed to worship their God, another community might engage in a ritual that is designed to reinforce a commitment to science.
  • Rituals demonstrate the structure and order of things within a particular worldview. For example: a society that doesn’t believe that women are equal to men will likely not allow women to lead in ritual. So, we can see the hierarchy of gender, humans/animals, humans/Gods in the structures of the ritual (Stein and Stein, pg 77–102).
  • Rituals also present economic and political opportunities that participants can use to their advantage. In this sense, a culture’s rituals don’t just demonstrate “how that culture is” (how people make sense of the world around them). Rituals also are — and have likely always been — important platforms that people actively use in order to reproduce or transform the relationships, ideas, and social structures that exist in their culture (see below).

6.3 Human Sacrifice As Ritual

6.4 Rituals Establish Generationally Continuity

6.5 “Too Costly To Fake”

6.6 Rites of Passage

  • A graduation ceremony signifies that a person is no longer a student and is now a graduate, usually holding a degree that is intended to elevate professional status.
  • A wedding ceremony moves a couple from the status of “dating” to the status of “married;” this rite of passage forms a new family.
  • A funeral helps the community accept that a person is no longer a living member of a community and moves the passed-on individual into their new social status as deceased.
  1. Separation (The phase in each rite of passage where the person going through a change is moved into a location away from the community.) (Turner, 94)
  2. Liminality (The middle phase where the ritual is taking place. In the liminal phase, a person is no longer a member of their old identity, but they are also not yet a member of their new identity; they exist between two states. The liminal phase is usually signified through some kind of dress that removes the person’s individual identity. For example, people in the liminal phase usually all wear the same clothing and remove personalized symbols).
  3. Reincorporation (After the initiate has completed the required ritual actions, they are allowed to return to society with their new status. In this phase, they are recognized as having a new identity and role in society). (Turner, 94)
  1. First, the people graduating are separated from their friends and family; they typically sit in the center of the ceremony space and listen to an address.
  2. During the ceremony, all participants wear the same cap and gown which creates a sense of liminality.
  3. Finally, the participants are handed a diploma and are declared “graduates” and return to the community to be congratulated and recognized as having a new social position.

6.7 The Hajj

6.8 Victor Turner

  • Necessarily ambiguous
  • “Betwixt and between” identities
  • “Neither here nor there”
  • No status, no insignias
  • Seems to possess nothing; naked
  • Groups become homogenized, builds camaraderie (Turner, 96))

6.9 Audrey Richards

6.9 Birth As Ritual

6.11–6.13 Examples of Rituals






Cultural Anthropologist in Los Angeles

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Amanda Zunner-Keating

Amanda Zunner-Keating

Cultural Anthropologist in Los Angeles

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