Does ritual exist? Defining and classifying ritual based on belief theory

Research paper by Qing Lan

Indexed on: 13 May '18Published on: 12 May '18Published in: The Journal of Chinese Sociology


Either “rite of passage” or “ritual” facing deadly difficulties as analytic concept, we have no way to differentiate common behavior, rite of passage, and ritual in a strict sense until today. Depended on carefully reading, we find that Van Gennep’s original expressions of nearly all basic features of the rite of passage are vague; the only thing we can ensure is that ritual object will change through the rite of passage. Gluckman tried to save the rite of passage with social relations, but his effort failed because common behavior also changes social relations. By examining three cases, air journey, Ilongot headhunting, and Yiche ancestor worship, we find that formalization, standardization, or routinization is not the essential element of ritual. The core of problem is what people want to change by ritual. Applying the belief theory as a way forward, we use the change of relations between two categories of mental existence but social relations for the definition of ritual. Then, we equate rite of passage with ritual and restrict ritual within religious behavior. Furthermore, according to the kinds of mental existence what we want to change in ritual, we classify two kinds of ritual.