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date: 09 August 2020


The Oxford Classical Dictionary
Fritz GrafFritz Graf

Both definition and interpretation of ritual are highly debated among social scientists. On a minimal definition (at least in the context of Greek and Roman cultures), ritual could be seen as symbolic activity in a religious context. A ritual (or ceremony) is composed of several single acts, the rites. Ritual is an activity whose imminent practical aim has become secondary, replaced by the aim of communication; this does not preclude ritual from having other, less immediate practical goals. Form and meaning of ritual are determined by tradition; they are malleable according to the needs of any present situation, as long as the performers understand them as being traditional. As to interpretation, in an era where often loosely associated Frazerian meanings dominated the field, the seminal work of A. van Gennep (1909; see the preceding entry) made it clear that rituals with seemingly widely different goals have common structures; this developed the insight, deepened by structuralism, that in ritual, structures are prior to meaning. French sociology (E. Durkheim) and British social anthropology (... ...

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