Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice is a thesis which proposes methods for overcoming the divide between thought and action present in the descriptions ofRitual Theory, Ritual Practice is a thesis which proposes methods for overcoming the divide between thought and action present in the descriptions of ritual.
“...theoretical discourse about ritual is organized as a coherent whole by virtue of a logic based on the opposition of thought and action.”
“…the problems we face in analyzing ritual, as well as the impetus for engaging these particular problems, have less to do with interpreting the raw data and more to do with the manner in which we theoretically constitute ritual as the object of cultural method of interpretation.”
“…descriptions of how rituals work have been constructed according to a logic rooted in the dynamic of theoretical speculation and the unconscious manipulation of the thought-action dichotomy is intrinsic to this construction.”
While Catherine Bell appears to be primarily addressing methods in Religious Studies, in which there may have been a need for this critique, her exposition nonetheless falls flat in many places. Her analysis of the thought-action dichotomy found in Emilé Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, for example, can be attributed to their structural-functionalist foundations: a theoretical approach which has a long list of well-known strengths and weaknesses, one being the level of macro-analysis which produces the kinds of descriptions Bell is critiquing. Her use of Pierre Bourdieu and Karl Marx are slightly more appropriate, though both these authors are also operating a macro-analysis to account for both external social structures (such as class) and subjective experience (personal tastes and desires).
Much of the book is filled with statements like the following: “..ritualization, as a strategic mode of action effective within certain social orders, does not, in any useful understanding of words, ‘control’ individual or society. Yet ritualization is very much concerned with power. Closely involved with the objectification and legitimation of an ordering of power as an assumption of the way things really are, ritualization is a strategic arena for the embodiment of power relations.” I classify this and other similar 'insights' provided by Bell by the term "duh."
Furthermore, I do not believe there is a divide between though-action within the last 40 years of Anthropological studies in ritual, religion, and magic. The Kpelle Moot (Gibbs) acts as legal system, the Winnebago Trickster (Radin) orders and reorders cosmology from the spirits to the living, the Shaman travels to the realm of the dead (Lowie, Taussig, Hill), the Nigerian sorcerers kill (McCall). Because the majority of Anthropologists attribute "the real" to these cultural systems, Anthropological analysis describes and explains them in terms of DOING things. In this sense, Bell would have done better to address the divide created between the power of ritual practices and the need for scientists to create 'objective' facts. ...more