This course engages theories and descriptions of
textual scripts that shape people's words, actions and
experiences, both religious and secular, and that
people manipulate for spiritual and social effects on
religious performances, objects, cultures, traditions
This iteration of the course focuses on theories of
rhetoric and of ritual in religious practices.
Rhetoric and ritual are separate subjects, each
surrounded by a long and established history of
academic discourse, beyond and outside of religious
studies: ritual has been a preoccupation in
anthropology from the origins of that field in the
19th century, while rhetoric has been the subject of
theoretical discourse much longer, since the 5th
century BCE. This course provides an introduction to
both theoretical traditions with particular attention
to their application to religious practices.
However, the topics of ritual and rhetoric are also
entangled with each other. All forms of academic
discourse are verbal, and so necessarily rhetorical.
Theories about ritual as well as rhetoric are
therefore themselves rhetorical. Yet ritual practices
use words as, at most, only one element in bodily
practices that involve time, space, various objects
and most, if not all of the human senses. The
rhetorical, that is verbal, nature of theory tends to
distort and impede treatment of bodily activities that
do not necessarily privilege or prioritize words.
Furthermore, the words that rituals incorporate may be
used for ritual purposes rather than or in addition to
rhetorical ones. The problem in a nutshell is that
verbal interpretation is a form of rhetoric, but
ritual actions often resist reduction to verbalized
So this course also addresses the problem of how to
describe rituals in words without turning rituals into
systems of verbal symbols.
The course will proceed by bringing selected readings
in the theories of ritual and rhetoric to bear on
examples and case studies provided by both the
instructor and the students. The seminar will begin by
having each participant orient themselves and their
research interests toward the topics of rhetoric and
ritual. The instructor will introduces a selection of
biblical and post-biblical texts that will serve as
his reference points in discussions of the secondary
literature throughout the course. Students will then
bring other examples of rhetorical and ritual
practices from disparate cultures and traditions to
bear on the discussions and, especially, on their
final research projects.
Academic Integrity Policy:
Religious Observances Policy
Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, SU library online
Clifford Geertz, Interpretation of
Culture, SU library online
George Kennedy, Comparative Rhetoric, Bird library reserves
Kimberley Patton, Religion of the Gods, Bird library reserves
Roy Rappaport, Ritual and
Religion, Bird library
Arnold Van Gennep, Rites of
Passage, Bird library
For further resources relevant to the topic of this course, consult the Bibliography at the end of the syllabus.
Topics and Readings (for full citations, see bibliography below):
||Where Watts is coming from||
Watts, “Ritual Rhetoric in the ANE”
PIC of Greek krater (in Louvre) showing blood sacrifice
Watts, “Rhetoric of Sacrifice”Watts, “Texts are not rituals”
|Jan 25||Rhetoric about Rhetoric 1: persuasion||
Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.1-3, 2.1Burke, Rhetoric of Motives xiii-xv, 19-46
|Feb 1||Where YOU are coming from||Student presentations of one piece of primary material about religious rhetoric or ritual, or both|
|Feb 8||Rhetoric about Rhetoric 2: cross-cultural rhetoric||
Kennedy, Comparative Rhetoric, prologue & chs. 1, 2, 4, 6Mao, "Reflective Encounters"
Ritual uses of
Austin, How to do Things with Words, 1-24Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, chaps. 1, 2, 4, 5.
Ritual uses of
|Goody, "Construction of a Ritual Text"
Bell, "Ritualization of Texts"
Larson, "Gospels as Imperialized Sites of Memory"
Wilkens, “Infusions and Fumigations”
||No Assignment (see next line)
||SU's REL joint symposium with Bochum's CERES||Attend as your schedule allows
about Ritual 1:
the linguistic turn
Lévi-Strauss, Naked Man,
Geertz, Interpretation of Culture, chaps. 1, 4, 5, 6
||Rhetoric about Ritual 2: theorizing “ritual”||
Staal, “Meaninglessness of Ritual”JZ Smith, “Bare Facts of Ritual”
Asad, "Toward a Genealogy of Ritual"
Mahmood, "Rehearsed Spontaneity"
||Rhetoric about Ritual 3: theorizing performance||Due: Paper topics
Tambiah, “A Performative Approach to Ritual.”
Grimes, Ritual Criticism, chaps. 1, 9, 10.
Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, 13-17, 47-54, 67-142, 182-223.
without Rhetoric 1: ritual experience
Actions and Religious Practices.”
Van Gennep, Rites of Passage (all)
without Rhetoric 2: embodied metaphors
Paper thesis, bibliography and outline
Turner, Forest of Symbols, 19-92Lakoff & Johnson , Metaphors We Live By, 3-19, 36-40, 57-59, 234-235, 256-257
Boivin, “Grasping the Elusive and Unknowable”
in Religious Rhetoric
of the Gods
, 3-23, 161-187,
239-247, 307-216 and browse what is in between.
|Apr 26 Student
|May 10 Due: Research papers|