Draft Only – not for quotation without specific permission of the author, © 1998 M. Therese Lysaught
Inritualed Bodies: Ritual Studies and Liturgical Ethics
Society of Christian Ethics, Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA,
9 January 1998
Since the mid-1970's, there has been growing affirmation in the world of academic theological ethicists, that liturgy might provide an important and hitherto overlooked source or resource for Christian ethics. Others have made the claim more strongly, insisting not only that there is a linkage between liturgy and ethics, but that, in fact, liturgy is ethics (Guroian 1985, Harakas 1985, Wainwright 1988, Yoder 1991). While the relationship between liturgy and ethics can be construed in a number of ways, in this paper, I will focus on the claim that liturgy is a source for (or of) ethics. This notion of "source" functions in primarily two ways. First, liturgy is sometimes seen as a locus theologicus from which warrants for ethical justification can be drawn or from which to derive theological insights that inform concepts central to theological ethics, such as insights into theological anthropology or christology. Here the texts and rites themselves are simply another component of tradition, along with Scripture and theological writings, upon which academic ethicists can draw when constructing or seeking to justify Christian positions on various topics or issues. The best example of this is in the work of Vigen Guroian (Guroian 1985; 1991a; 1991b; 1995; see also Lysaught 1996). Moreover, unlike many documents within the Christian tradition, liturgy is available to lay worshipers in a unique way. Thus, ethicists seek to plumb liturgical rites, texts, and practices for meaning because these can serve as an aid to the religious and moral formation of broader Christian communities in a unique way as they negotiate the ethical rapids of contemporary life.
Another way of construing liturgy as a source of ethics is to posit that liturgy affects worshipers in some way, that liturgy is potentially efficacious in shaping the actions of those who participate in it. In this paper, I will focus on this latter claim. Specifically, I will seek to address the question of how liturgy is thought to be effective? Six different "mechanisms" have been proposed which might account for liturgy's efficacy; specifically, liturgy is construed as: influencing cognitive faculties, affecting vision, shaping affections, forming community, relating the individual to the divine, or engaging participants in drama. However, as I will argue at the end of the first section, writings of ethicists on the relationship between liturgy and ethics to date leave out one rather essential component of liturgy, namely, the body.
Having identified this lacuna, the next question suggests itself: What might it mean for the body to be included in this equation linking liturgy to ethics? In thinking about this question, it occurred to me that it might be profitable to look to the body of literature developing within the academic study of religion on ritual. Liturgy has traditionally been understood as 'ritual,' and ritual theorists seem to deal a lot with bodies. And in my research, I discovered that, indeed, I am not the first to turn to the field of ritual studies for insight into Christian liturgy. At the same time, however, I discovered that this interdisciplinary interface is not entirely unproblematic. Relying on Catherine Bell's critical reading of ritual theory, in her Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (1992), in the second part of the paper I will first suggest that three presuppositions held by ritual theory should prove problematic for a simple, uncritical appropriation of ritual theory by liturgists and ethicists. With these caveats in mind, I will then suggest that a cautious appropriation of ritual theory can be useful in two ways. I will show that a critical reading of ritual theory provides a helpful critique of a central presupposition behind the literature in liturgy and ethics, namely, a privileged dichotomy between thought and action. Using Bell's notion of the ritualized body, I will end by suggesting that a fundamental function of liturgy is the production of Christian bodies.
Liturgy as formative of the moral agent
How, then, is liturgy efficacious vis a vis ethics? How does it work? As noted above, six "mechanisms" which might account for liturgy's efficacy have been suggested. These could be further subdivided under two headings: (1) what is affected -- cognitive faculties, vision, affections, or community; or (2) how are these affected -- via divine agency or drama.
What Does Liturgy Affect?
Liturgy and Cognitive Faculties
First, liturgy is believed to effect ethical behavior by affecting various mental faculties, communicating knowledge, or changing consciousness. As Marva Dawn notes, "various elements of worship create certain perspectives and understandings about God and specific attitudes and habits of being which affect how we think, speak, and act" (Dawn, 1993, 297). Moreover, liturgy "opens [the] minds" of the participants and "underscore[s] the[ir] awareness" of God (Dawn, 1993, 300; see also Pawlikowski, 1984, 321 and Weakland, 1990, 347). Kevin Seasoltz, explicitly rejecting a second approach which we will consider below, likewise locates a main locus of efficacy on the mental level: "Liturgical rites do not primarily express human feelings; they are meant to convey [or shape] attitudes and dispositions" (Seasoltz, 1993,50; see also 53). Liturgy transmits knowledge, providing a forum in which "the celebrants can discover or rediscover who they are in the world and what the nature of their world actually is" (Seasoltz, 1993, 54). As such, it has "a strong teaching potential" (Seasoltz, 1993, 55). Less specifically, some see the function of liturgy as "raising consciousness" (Pawlikowski, 1984, 321; Gurrieri, 1983, 31).
Similarly, but employing a different metaphor, some see liturgy as ethically efficacious insofar as the Eucharist or the church provides a model, pattern, mirror, or "paradigm" for living and acting. Seasoltz and Geoffrey Wainwright both use the term "paradigm" to refer to the function of the Eucharist; as Wainwright notes:
...the Eucharist provides enabling paradigms for our ethical engagement in the world: [it] allows us to learn, absorb, and extend the values of God's kingdom....In terms of ethical theory, the eucharistic paradigm points us in the right direction: it sets the vector within which the difficult concrete decisions and actions of everyday life have to be taken and performed if they are to be authentically Christian (Wainwright, 1988, 134, 136; see also Wainwright, 1982, 107, and Seasoltz, 1993, 56).
Others likewise maintain that Eucharist/liturgy provides a "pattern of behavior (Seasoltz, 1993, 55) or a "mirror...of the Christian lifestyle" (Gurrieri, 1983, 24).
Liturgy and Vision
Related to these cognitive modes, one of the primary vectors of ethical efficacy proposed is that liturgy shapes the vision and perceptions of participants, providing participants with an alternative construal of the world. Generally speaking, through liturgy, we come to "see ourselves" differently; we are given a "worldview" (Seasoltz, 1993, 55). Paul Wadell, for example, describes "the Eucharist as a training in moral vision....as the ritual activity through which a people's vision is cleansed and healed. More strongly put, through worshiping together in Eucharist, we should gradually take on God's view of things" (Wadell, 1991, 163). Vigen Guroian concurs: "The church must strive to transform perception and understanding of what is morally at stake in the lives people lead" (Guroian, 1991b, 223). The liturgical practices of the church provide the content of this vision: "I argue that there is an ecological vision deeply structured within Orthodox theology and ethics. That vision is nowhere more pronounced than in the Orthodox rites of blessing" (Guroian, 1991a, 91).
How does liturgy affect vision? Again, different avenues are suggested. For some, the locus of efficacy is the imagination. Vigen Guroian sees liturgy as iconic:
Liberal agency models almost never speak of attraction but rather of argument, persuasion, and power in their efforts to describe the nature of the church and its mission. The emphasis of such agency theory is on reason and will, whereas the theology of the icon takes into account imagination, perception, and interpretation. The power of the icon, writes Anthony Ugolnik, is in its capacity 'to prepare the believer to look outward, even into the secular world, to find the image of the Creator. This claim on the imagination will allow the very act of interpretation, the structures of meaning that the Christian assigns to the world and experience, to transfigure the culture of his or her people' (Guroian, 1991b, 221).
Others draw on narrative approaches to theology and ethics to explain how liturgy affects vision, maintaining that what the liturgy does is provide a narrative context into which participants enter and locate themselves, a universe of discourse into which we become situated. As Donald Saliers notes,
The concretization of the moral life requires a vision of a world, and the continuing exercise of recalling, sustaining, and reentering that picture of the cosmos in which norms and practices have meaning and point....In short, the possibility of religious ethics...rests upon available mythoi -- stories and narratives of human existence in which a picture of the moral good and associated ideas are expressed (Saliers 1979, 174).
Narratives are essential to the anamnetic dimension of liturgy. In this regard, Paul Wadell invokes the common notion of "remembering": in entering into the narratives of the Christian life, we make the past contemporaneous. These stories then become the "grammar" of our lives, as we learn "the language of God"; they thereby help us to "read the world" (Wadell, 1991, 159). More generally it is held that Christian narratives so learned can be juxtaposed to those of the world, challenging contemporary ideologies and offering an alternative point of departure for construing the world (Guroian, 1985, 354).
Liturgy and the Affections
These first two avenues for movement from liturgy to ethics locate liturgical efficacy at a cognitive or perceptual level. Some dispute this, however. As Kathleen Hughes maintains, for example: "We do not celebrate the liturgy in order to think about ideas, however worthy....Liturgy is less a matter of the head than of the heart, an experience less of formation than of transformation (Hughes 1991, 45-46). Hughes represents a third major position on the relationship of liturgy and ethics, namely, that liturgy and ethics are linked not at the cognitive level but at the emotional or affective level. Liturgy is seen to shape participants' affections, sensitivities, virtues, character, personality, motivation, dispositions, and change their hearts. As Donald Saliers notes:
the relations between liturgy and ethics are most adequately formulated by specifying how certain affections and virtues are formed and expressed in the modalities of communal prayer and ritual action. These modalities of prayer enter into the formation of the self in community (Saliers 1979, 175).
In keeping with the formula of lex orandi lex credendi, Saliers deems liturgical actions as "the rule-keeping activities of the affections [desires, emotions, attitudes, beliefs, and actions]" (Saliers 1979, 179, 174; see also Saliers 1992, 78). Elsewhere, liturgy is seen to shape character (Dawn 1993, 302), virtues (Gurioan, 1985, 338), moral sensitivities or sensibilities (Pawlikowski, 1984, 321; Gurrieri, 1983, 24), effect a "change of heart" (Gurrieri, 1983, 24), and provide motivation (Weakland, 1990, 355).
Liturgy and Community
The presentation of the three above trajectories would be incomplete without noting a secondary component which attends many of these positions, namely, the social dimension of liturgy. In good post-Vatican II fashion, Bishop Rembert Weakland notes, "Liturgy is not a private devotion but an act of the people of God" (Weakland, 1990, 348). This recognition of the social dimension of liturgy was one of the major principles overseeing the process of liturgical renewal and revision in the Catholic church following the Second Vatican Council. Liturgical actions are properly and intrinsically social and communal, and this social dimension is understood to be a key component in the move from liturgy to ethics. First of all, liturgy both expresses the unity of those who participate but also, and more importantly, constitutes it (Seasoltz, 1993, 50). It puts us into "proper relationships with ourselves, others in the community, and God" (Seasoltz, 1993, 54; see also Guroian, 1985, 343). And not only does liturgy constitute community, liturgy communally-understood has an almost ontological effect on individuals: "An individual becomes a person in and through engagement with a community” (Seasoltz, 1993, 50). As Vigen Guroian maintains, "Through baptism, persons are incorporated into a new structure of life. Their being has been changed and so too their ethics from that of the world" (Guroian, 1985, 341). Finally, not only is community effected on the contemporary level but also on the eschatological level (Guroian, 1985, 335).
How Does Liturgy Achieve Its Effects?
Liturgy and Divine Agency
Fundamental to a number of the foregoing accounts is an affirmation not only that liturgical participants are changed, but that this change is effected by divine presence or agency. Liturgy is fundamentally "a personal encounter with the living presence of the Creator God" (Pawlikowski, 1984, 323), "the 'presence and act of the trinitarian God'" (Wainwright, 1982, 95); God in Christ is in the midst of the assembly (Saliers 1979, 183; Rossi, 1979, 244; Seasoltz, 1993, 43). Thus, the liturgy not only tells the story of God's salvation history, providing images and concepts for participants; Christ's presence actualizes his salvific work of conversion and reconciliation anew. In doing so, worshipers are "initiated into God's very life and bonded to God" (Seasoltz, 1993, 43); "they are assimilated into the very Body of the One...As that Body they become the very presence and action of God's reign in the world" (Guroian, 1985, 345). Thus, Christ provides worshipers not only with a model or paradigm of right action, but more importantly with the enabling power of the Spirit, as Wainwright notes:
...the Eucharist does not only draw the pattern: it also gives the power and conveys a promise....Christ's pattern is not only to be observed but, by his grace, entered into; and for that we are given the power of the Holy Spirit (Wainwright, 1988, 136; see also Seasoltz, 1993, 43; Gurrieri, 1983, 23; Harakas, 1985).
Liturgy as Drama
For many, though, the question remains: precisely how it is that liturgy shapes any of the above categories. How does it transmit knowledge, shape affections, alter vision, forge community? One additional metaphor begins to approach this question, construing liturgy as a drama. It is through liturgy's essential nature as dramatization or dramatic re-enactment that liturgy is efficacious. For Paul Ramsey the Christian narrative is dramatically presented in liturgy:
It could be asserted that the story of the Christian Story that is the principium of both credendi and bene operandi can best be told by the dramaturgy, the rehearsal, the reenactment, the repetition that belongs to the nature of liturgy" (Ramsey, 1979, 146; see also Kiefer, 1991, 69).
Likewise, "Liturgical celebration is like a dress rehearsal for the end time. We put on Christ and act and relate to one another as Christ relates to us" (Seasoltz, 1993, 54). For Don Saliers, it is this dramatic dimension that impacts affectivity:
Beliefs about God and world and self which characterize a religious life are dramatized and appropriated in the mode of the affections and dispositions focused in liturgical occasions....In the very activity of re-presenting and rehearsing features of existence described in the Scriptures, worshipers articulate their fundamental relations to one another and to the world....The exercise of such affects requires a continual re-entry of the person in to the narrative and teachings which depict the identity of Jesus Christ....Liturgy is the non-utilitarian enactment of the drama of the divine-human encounter (Saliers 1979, 175, 176, 179, 188).
But participation in liturgy as drama is not merely affective; it involves all the faculties...and senses...and more.
Liturgy and...the Body?
This last perspective draws more explicitly than the others on the findings and literature of a field outside the traditional parameters of liturgical theology or ethics, namely, the field of ritual studies. And while the interface between ritual studies and liturgical ethics remains sporadic, since 1990 references to ritual theorists have begun appearing more frequently in this literature. Thus, for example, referenced are Victor Turner's findings on liminality, status incumbencies, symbolic action, and ritual process (Hughes 1991, Saliers 1992, Farley 1979), as well as the works of Mary Douglas' (Farley 1979, Kiefer 1991, Smith 1995), Paul Ricouer (Farley 1979), and Mircea Eliade (Smith 1995), all of who speak both on the nature of symbols and on the relationship between the sacred and profane.
The appropriation of one last theorist is particularly relevant for this paper. Kevin Seasoltz, in his article "Liturgy and Social Consciousness," employs the work of Theodore Jennings on what Jennings refers to as "ritual knowledge." This section is worth quoting at length:
...the liturgy as ritual behavior is itself a way of coming to know theologically. Theodore Jennings explored this phenomenon in a useful article published in the Journal of Religion. He distinguished three aspects of ritual knowledge: (1) It is acquired in and through the human body. "It is not so much that the mind 'embodies' itself in ritual action, but rather that the body 'minds' itself or attends through itself in ritual action.'" (2) Ritual knowledge is gained not by mere detached observation but through action. Knowledge is acquired in and through the action itself. (3) Ritual knowledge is gained through engagement which is transformative of the actors. It is one experience to read about a dance, another experience to watch someone else dance the dance, and still another experience to dance the dance itself (Seasoltz, 54).
Here Seasoltz is on the verge of breaking into new territory vis a vis liturgy and ethics, but he steps back. From this point, he returns to the traditional metaphors of knowledge, vision, worldview, drama and does not pursue Jennings' claim that in ritual, knowledge is acquired in and through the body.
Or to take another example. Vigen Guroian in his article "Seeing Worship as Ethics," draws on the Orthodox rite of Chrismation, presenting a thickly embodied rite:
Sweet ointment in the name of Jesus Christ is poured upon thee as a seal of incorruptible heavenly gifts.
The eyes [are then anointed]:
This seal in the name of Jesus Christ enlighten thine eyes, that thou mayest never sleep unto death.
This holy anointing be unto thee for the hearing of the divine commandments.
this seal in the name of Jesus Christ be to thee a sweet smell from life unto life.
This seal in the name of Jesus Christ be to thee a guard for thy mouth and strong door for thy lips.
This seal in the name of Jesus Christ be to thee a cause for good works and for all virtuous deeds and conduct.
This seal establish in thee a pure heart and renew within thee an upright spirit.
This seal in the name of Jesus Christ be to thee a shield of strength thereby to quench all the fiery darts of the Evil One.
This divine seal direct thy goings upon life everlasting that thou mayest not be shaken (Guroian, 1985, 342-343).
Guroian finds in this rite an ethical imperative based in part on its ontological effect but also in its "call...to [conscientiously] cultivate a certain disposition and character" (Guroian, 1985, 343). He overlooks, however, the fact that in this rite, the candidate's body is anointed again and again -- the eyes, the ears, the nostrils, the back, the feet. The internal wisdom of the rite is intrinsically embodied. In Guroian's account, however, of worship as ethics, this bodily dimension is not addressed.
Seasoltz and Guroian, however, are not alone in this. For as is evident from the foregoing presentation, nowhere in the literature on the link between liturgy and ethics is the human body mentioned, discussed, or taken into account. This might be unremarkable except for the fact that we are dealing with liturgy, which has been described by one liturgical theologian as "not a matter of 'ideas' but of 'bodies' or, better, of 'corporeality.' (Chauvet, 1995, viii). Liturgy is nothing if not embodied. These seems obvious, and for this reason, it seems more striking that this aspect of liturgy has been overlooked.
If the foregoing analysis is persuasive, we come to this juncture with two questions. I have drawn an account of theoretical reflection on liturgy and ethics that construes the route of efficacy as being one predominantly centered in cognitive or affective faculties while silent regarding the role of the body. Might the field of ritual studies provide insight into how to incorporate the body into this discussion? As we have seen, some theorists have begun to draw on the categories and concepts of ritual theory. However, is this a completely benign endeavor, or might uncritical appropriation of ritual theory be problematic? We turn now to an account of ritual theory to address these questions.
The Appropriation of Ritual Theory: Initial Cautions
So, ritual theory has been appropriated by some who examine the link between liturgy and ethics, but for addressing only the cognitive, affective, or community-forming functions of ritual. While this appropriation is subtle in some, represented merely as an adoption of terminology and conceptual categories, others explicitly reference ritual theorists. But far from functioning as a simple identifier of a type of practice or as an analytical tool, the term "ritual" and the theory that has developed around it carry with it at least three interrelated presuppositions that may prove problematic for a simple, uncritical appropriation of ritual theory by liturgical theologians or theological ethicists.
First of all, as Catherine Bell notes, in her work Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, prior to the nineteenth century, the concept of "ritual" as a formal category of analysis did not exist (14). The concept, and the ability of scholars of religion to suddenly "see" rituals as separable objects of study, emerged "in that period in which 'reason' and the scientific pursuit of knowledge were defining a particular hegemony in Western intellectual life" (6). The implications of this for liturgical ethics are clear. Given this genesis, one function of the concept of ritual was to define peculiar, particular religious practices as "natural" vis a vis certain social, psychological or cultural dynamics; the notion of ritual was used to explain the relationship between "religion" and "society," when these two entities first were sundered as they had not been before. As such, that which looked irrational was rendered accessible to "scientific" scrutiny and universal reason. Religious belief and practice, one could clearly see, served a social function; alternatively, religious belief and practice were derived, unknown to the creators, from more basic social activities. The very notion of ritual, then, is a product and facilitator of the agenda of nineteenth century liberal theology: the redefinition of religion as private, individual, non-rational, emotive, and experiential. In other words, "religion" as practices could now be understood without believing.
Relatedly, Bell identifies a second presupposition of ritual theory: the category of "ritual" is deemed to be useful insofar as it identifies "a universal category of human experience" (14). As noted above, this universality is a key to its function: only insofar as certain ritual actions are universal can they be redescribed as "natural" and thereby by mapped by the explanatory schemes of sociology, psychology or cultural analysis. This presupposition -- that ritual activity is universal or a part of human nature -- has informed the work of many Christian ethicists and liturgists on liturgy. For example, in Harmon Smith's recent book on Liturgy and the Moral Life, Where Two Or Three Are Gathered, a chapter on "Liturgy and Life," which draws on ritual theory to paint a broad picture of the ritual dimension of human life, precedes the chapter on "Liturgy and the Christian Life." As Smith notes:
...it will not be surprising that the rites and ceremonies and symbols and liturgies which we employ in worship are very ancient indeed, and in fact have their roots in the earliest recorded evidences of human activity. To be reminded of this may help to set the stage for talking about particular features of Christian liturgy and the close relation it shares with Christian ethics (Smith, 1995, 9).
For Smith, as for many others, the dynamics of Christian liturgy are to be understood in part by their participation in this more general phenomenon of ritual practice. For some, this notion of the universality of ritual may provide a level of validation for religious practice: if ritual is natural and universal, if it serves some important social function, then we can breathe a sigh of relief and need not be concerned about apologetics. But at the same time, this belief in universality relativizes particular religious practices: ritual is universal, and serves certain social functions; therefore there is nothing particularly transcendent, metaphysical, or truthful about any particular practices -- including your own. This relativization of Christian truth-claims will not, or ought not, be acceptable for Christian theological ethicists.
Thirdly, the notion of ritual emerged in conjunction with a particular understanding of 'religion.' As Bell notes, theories of ritual:
all stressed the primacy of religious ideas, born of pseudoscientific explanations or emotional experiences, as the basis of religion. Ritual, as exemplary religious behavior, was the necessary but secondary expression of these mental orientations. This understanding of ritual accompanied a primary focus on religion, as having to do with the sacred, which is still seen in the work of phenomenologists of religion today (Bell 14-15).
In other words, the concept of ritual and the theories of religion in which it is embedded either purport to be neutral or explicitly reject religious claims to truth. In addition, ritual theories presuppose as 'factual' certain descriptions of the world. Bell notes, that in spite of the fact that theories about ritual arise from a variety of methodological perspectives:
there is a surprising degree of consistency in the descriptions of ritual: ritual is a type of critical juncture wherein some pair of opposing social or cultural forces comes together. Examples include the ritual integration of belief and behavior, tradition and change, order and chaos, the individual and the group, subjectivity and objectivity, nature and culture, the real and the imaginative ideal....[Moreover] ritual is consistently depicted as a mechanistically discrete and paradigmatic means of sociocultural integration, appropriation, or transformation. (16).
The notion of ritual, then, undergirds certain theoretical construals of religion, culture, human nature or society; these may be at odds with the way these same entities are construed within Christian theology, either substantively or in terms of their antagonistic dualism. Therefore, liturgical theologians or theological ethicists will need to proceed cautiously in their appropriation of the concept of ritual, recognizing that it cannot simply be used in abstraction from the larger discourses from which it emerged and in which it is embedded.
Ritual Theory and Liturgical Ethics: A Common Characteristic
While the above insights into the genesis of the concept of ritual suggest caution for theological ethicists, Bell's critical reading of classical and contemporary ritual theory also interestingly provides a valuable critique of the current conversation on liturgy and ethics. The sum of her critique can be stated simply: ritual theory, Bell argues, is premised on an often-identified assumption about thought and action that runs particularly deep in the intellectual traditions of Western culture, namely that these stand in a bifurcated, dichotomous relationship with 'thought' being accorded a privileged, autonomous status.
She describes two different manifestations of this dichotomy in ritual studies which are relevant here. A first pattern simply equates ritual with activity, contrasting and subordinating this to belief as thought:
Theoretical descriptions of ritual generally regard it as action and thus automatically distinguish it from the conceptual aspects of religion, such as belief, symbols and myths....Likewise, beliefs, creeds, symbols, and myths emerge as forms of mental content or conceptual blueprints: they direct, inspire, or promote activity, but they themselves are not activities (19).
Beliefs are related to ritual insofar as rituals "act out, express, or perform these conceptual orientations" (19). But not only is this vector unidirectional; beliefs are privileged:
Sometimes...ritual is then described as particularly thoughtless action -- routinized, habitual, obsessive, or mimetic -- and therefore the purely formal, secondary, and mere physical expression of logically prior ideas. Just as the differentiation of ritual and belief in terms of thought and action is usually taken for granted, so too is the priority this differentiation accords to thought....[Edward Shils argues for example that] one might accept beliefs but not the ritual activities associated with them. He concludes logically, therefore, "beliefs could exist without rituals; rituals, however, could not exist without beliefs."" (19).
While this latter conclusion is, of course, false, in good Reformation fashion, for some ritual theorists, what really matters in religion is not what one does but rather what one believes.
Bell also sees this dichotomy operative in Clifford Geertz' distinction between "ethos," which refers to the moral and aesthetic aspects of a culture (including attitudes, dispositions, moods and motivations), and "worldview," which refers to the "cognitive, existential aspects of a culture, a people's sense of the really real" (26). As Bell reads it, ethos is to worldview as action is to thought; Geertz makes this more explicit, at times correlating religious ritual with ethos and religious belief with worldview.
A second pattern in ritual theory recognizes this bifurcation of thought and action and seeks to overcome it by positing ritual as "a type of functional or structural mechanism to reintegrate the thought-action dichotomy" (20). In spite of his efforts to overcome this dichotomy, Bell argues that Durkheim, in the end, reproduces it:
Durkheim argued that religion is composed of beliefs and rites: beliefs consist of representations of the sacred; rites are determined modes of action that can be characterized only in terms of the representations of the sacred that are their object....[Ritual becomes] the means by which collective beliefs and ideals are simultaneously generated, experienced, and affirmed as real by the community. Hence, ritual is the means by which individual perception and behavior are socially appropriated or conditioned (20).
In this schema, representations, which are social or collective in nature, remain constructed as a mental category while experience and behavior, which are individual, are constructed as activity (20).
Likewise, Geertz, who at times seems to simply bifurcate 'ethos' and 'worldview,' at others times presents them as "synthesized, fused, or stored in symbols that are arranged in various systems, patterns, or control mechanisms such as ritual, art, religion, language, and myth. However, these systems do not only store a synthesis of ethos and worldview; they are also seen to effect it" (26). Thus, for Geertz ritual is understood to "enact, perform, or objectify religious beliefs (action gives expression to thought) and in doing so actually fuses the conceptual and dispositional aspects of religious symbols (ritual integrates thought and action). For participants...rites are 'enactments, materializations, realizations' of a particular religious perspective(" (27-28).
Bell finds this bifurcation problematic for two reasons. First, it simplistically and reductively distorts a single, complex reality into dichotomous aspects that can exist in theory only. These categories are foreign to the rite itself and do not describe participants actual understanding and experience of the rite. Second, this differentiation between thought and action disguises
a more powerful act of subordination...of act to thought, or actors to thinkers. Indeed, no matter how provisional or heuristic, a distinction between thought and action is not a differentiation between two equally weighted terms. When used, it is rarely intended to be. Despite the seeming equality of abstract distinctions...such dichotomies are implicitly employed to afford one term some purchase over the other (49).
But this pattern of bifurcation is not only characteristic of ritual theory; both are endemic in the literature on liturgy and ethics. On the one level, there is the simple separation of thought and action, of belief and rite. Over and over again, we hear that worship portrays (conveys, transmits, recalls) images, paradigms, stories, worldview, narratives, beliefs, understandings of God, Jesus, the world and ourselves. The language employed by liturgists and ethicists presupposes a pre-existent, autonomous realm of beliefs that is separate from the rites that embody them. At the same time, liturgy as ritual is portrayed as medium that synthesizes or reintegrates these separated entities. To recall simply one statement from our earlier discussion:
Beliefs about God and world and self which characterize a religious life are dramatized and appropriated in the mode of the affections and dispositions focused in liturgical occasions....In the very activity of re-presenting and rehearsing features of existence described in the Scriptures, worshipers articulate their fundamental relations to one another and to the world....The exercise of such affects requires a continual re-entry of the person into the narrative and teachings which depict the identity of Jesus Christ....Liturgy is the non-utilitarian enactment of the drama of the divine-human encounter" (Saliers 1979, 175, 176, 179, 188).
Given traditional sacramental theology, which holds that sacraments and liturgical acts "express what they signify," it may be difficult to completely avoid this dichotomization. But more importantly, failure to recognize this dichotomy as operational will oversimplify and distort our understanding of the complex realities of faith, liturgy and ethics, rendering our analyses inadequate. It also presumes an understanding of 'ethics' as a matter primarily of cognition and affection, a peculiar presumption given the fact that acts are, in the end, carried out by bodies and that it is with embodied actions that ethicists are most concerned.
Ritual Theory and Liturgical Ethics: The Body in Liturgy
Having identified some problems associated with a simple appropriation of the categories and concepts of ritual theory, we have seen that a critical reading of ritual theory is helpful insofar as it can likewise provide a critical perspective on the literature linking liturgy and ethics. At the same time, a study of ritual theory can provide the beginnings of an answer to the second problematic identified at the end of section one, namely, the absence of the body from the literature on liturgy and ethics. Given the constraints of this paper, I will not here outline a complete theory of embodiment. Rather, I would like to suggest where an approach focusing on liturgical embodiment might start.
In Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, Bell undertakes two different tasks. The first, as we have seen above, is a critical reading of classical and contemporary ritual theory. Her second task, however, is constructive. In light of her critique, Bell goes on to develop a constructive alternative to the notion of ritual, an approach she names "ritualization," drawing heavily on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Louis Althusser. In the context of developing this notion, she makes an observation important for our work. She notes that strategies of ritualization are fundamentally, inextricably, particularly rooted in the body (93). She goes on to identify four characteristics of embodied practices, specifically, that they are situational, strategic, and characterized by what she calls 'misrecognition' and 'redemptive hegemony.' While a discussion of these concepts and their relation to the body is beyond the scope of this paper, two insights emerge from her discussion that are relevant for our project.
First, Bell wishes to challenge the second pattern of the bifurcation of thought and action noted above. In other words, she does not wish to construe the body or practices as a cipher or a vehicle for the translation of thought or belief into action. Overagainst these approaches, Bell maintains that one of the functions of ritualization is the "production" of a particular body:
The implicit dynamic and 'end' of ritualization...can be said to be the production of a 'ritualized body.' A ritualized body is invested with a 'sense' of ritual. This sense of ritual exists as an implicit variety of schemes whose deployment works to produce sociocultural situations that the ritualized body can dominate in some way....This 'sense' is not a matter of self-conscious knowledge of any explicit rules of ritual but is an implicit 'cultivated disposition' (98).
While it is not clear to me that Bell completely avoids the dichotomy between pre-existing ideas (or, using her terms, schemes) and their actualization, what is important for us is the notion that one of the outcomes of this process of ritualization is that bodies are produced. She cites, as an example, Roy Rappaport's observation of how:
the act of kneeling does not so much communicate a message about subordination as it generates a body identified with subordination. In other words, the molding of the body within a highly structured environment does not simply express inner states. Rather, it primarily acts to restructure bodies in the very doing of the acts themselves. Hence, required kneeling does not merely communicate subordination to the kneeler. For all intents and purposes, kneeling produces a subordinated kneeler in and through the act itself.... For now, what we see in ritualization is not the mere display of subjective states or corporate values. Rather, we see an act of production -- the production of a ritualized agent able to wield physically a scheme of subordination and insubordination (100).
Thus, for Bell, this is an ongoing and circular process in which the production of a ritualized body in turn produces ritualized practices.
That ritualization entails the production of bodies rather than the simple communication of messages suggests that a significant amount of what goes on in ritualization is unconscious or unarticulated. Accordingly, Bell identifies ritualization as "a particularly 'mute' form of activity. It is designed to do what it does without bringing what it is doing across the threshold of discourse or systematic thinking" (93). One of the things it does not see itself doing is in fact the activity of producing ritualized bodies. As she notes:
Adapting Bourdieu's discussion of practice, we can speak of the natural logic of ritual, a logic embodied in the physical movements of the body and thereby lodged beyond the grasp of consciousness and articulation. The principles underlying this logic can be made explicit only with great difficulty; they are rarely in themselves the objects of scrutiny or contention. And yet, suggests Bourdieu, nothing less than a whole cosmology is instilled with the words 'Stand up straight!' (100).
Thus, one could argue that the efficacy of liturgy vis a vis ethics lies not only in its cognitive, affective, and communal dimensions but in the fact that it holds the potential for producing particular -- or particularly Christian -- bodies. Bell's insights in this regard are beginning to find resonance among those reflecting on liturgy. Stephen Buckland, for example, likewise rejects the bifurcation of reality endemic to so much discussion of ritual and liturgy and agrees that one of the functions of ritual is the production of ritualized bodies. As he notes:
theories which speak of symbols as 'standing for' or 'representing' something else inevitably suggest that the meaning of a ritual is to be discovered 'behind' the action, in what it 'represents.'...But gestures or postures, like words, do not acquire meaning simply in the sense of correlating a meaning which lies 'behind' them; their meaning is negotiated in and through the practices in which they are found (51).
Contemporary and ancient catechumenate and baptismal practices might illuminate what it means to say that liturgy produces bodies. In the contemporary Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in the Roman Catholic church, catechumens and candidates join the congregation for the Liturgy of the Word. Before the Offertory, however, they are asked to stand, week after week, addressed by the celebrant, and then, as the congregation stands and sings, ritually and ceremoniously marched out of the church marshaled by their catechists. In the process, they are constructed as bodies that are not yet fully incorporated into the Body of Christ, that have not yet earned the right to stand in the presence of the holy mysteries, that are not ready for Eucharist. In constructing their bodies as desirous of the Sacraments, whose lack will only be fulfilled -- and then joyously -- by re-creative incorporation into Christ on Easter Sunday, the rites seek to reshape their bodies from those produced by the world.
The contemporary structure of RCIA pales, of course, in comparison to catechetical and baptismal practices of the early church. As Chauvet notes: "During centuries of 'Christendom,'initiation was primarily brought about through a slow incubation of the body, the memory and the heart of each and every one, marks of identity inculcated by the liturgy or its space in the rhythm of Sundays and festivals" (31). Thomas Finn’s account of the rites of scrutiny and renunciation of the devil or exorcism, complete with exsufflation, accompanying baptismal practices in the time of Augustine are particularly compelling. Here, at the beginning of Holy Week, the competents (one step past catechumens) were led before the assembled community “in the dead of night--naked, heads bowed, and barefoot” (Finn, 597) for scrutiny and exorcism: “[Here] they felt the rough hands and the hot breath of the exorcist [as he hissed in their faces]. But this exorcism was not like the others...it involved a physical exam to determine whether any competent had a disease that would disqualify from baptism” (Finn, 597). As this brief segment shows, the rite was structured such that one of its principal foci was the body. And it was expected that through this process, particular sorts of bodies would be produced; thus Augustine’s “horror at the prospect of a catechumen of unbridled sexuality entering the baptismal font” (Finn, 591).
At the same time, this perspective suggests that a significant component of liturgical efficacy vis a vis ethics occurs not at the cognitive, conscious or articulated level, and that this is quite valuable. Moreover, one could argue that a desired outcome of Christian formation and liturgical practices are bodies habituated to respond "naturally," that is unreflectively. Buckland again echoes Bell's insights. Arguing that ritual invests bodies with 'cultural memory,' he maintains that the efficacy of ritual lies in the fact that it is primarily unarticulated:
Habits are, by definition, not reflectively conscious....There may, of course, be initial instruction...and subsequent explanation or commentary; but postures and gestures are learnt principally by imitation and soon become 'natural' and unreflective...appropriated by repetition over time. Bodies are shaped, 'memory' incorporated, by familiarization through time with movements in space, of eye or hand, lip or limb; in time and over time, instruction, explanation, commentary become unnecessary. With the habitual skills are incorporated human values and dispositions which, in time and over time, come to be 'natural.' Such knowledge is largely unspoken: literally embodied, profoundly, secretly effective.....the power of bodily practices to constitute 'memories' of past experiences depends, paradoxically, on their remaining unreflected upon and, apparently, 'natural' (52).
It seems plausible to suggest that one desired outcome of Christian formation is the production of bodies that simply 'react,' that is respond naturally in given situations, that 'know' without articulating the proper thing to do. To suggest a mundane example, my body has been 'produced' in a particular way -- to drive a car with manual transmission. Most of the time, I will admit, I do not 'think' about what to do -- when to push the clutch, when to shift; my body simply does it. While this is clearly useful on a day to day basis, it might prove particularly valuable in an emergency situation when I do not have time to think; my body will simply do the right thing. The extent of this embodiment becomes apparent when I, on occasion, drive an automatic. My foot 'naturally' goes for the clutch, my hand to the stick., even though they are not there. This latter point suggests a connection between bodies and context. Bodies produced through Christian liturgy may well not 'fit' within particular social contexts, thereby providing a critique of the context.
There is justification in the Christian tradition for taking human embodiment seriously. Christianity is essentially incarnational, and the fact of this incarnation is one of the central focus of Christian liturgies. As Louis-Marie Chauvet notes, within Christianity:
That which is most spiritual thus comes only through the mediation of that which is most corporeal....The liturgy and the sacraments tell us definitively that the most 'spiritual' communication with God made flesh in Jesus Christ does not take place in an immediacy which denies the resistance of the body and the senses, but on the contrary through the most bodily of mediations. (viii-ix).
Liturgy -- and ethics -- that ignores the body runs the risk of denying the incarnation itself (Sahi, 1995, 89) and transmitting an elitist gnosticism. Moreover, the image of the body was a central metaphor for Paul in the early church.
It is undisputable that liturgy in contemporary Western, white churches has become rather static and minimally embodied. As Jyoti Sahi notes:
Christian forms of liturgical action have often been dominated by the need to listen to the Word of God. So we note that as the verbal dimension becomes more and more important the physical participation of the worshiper recedes in value. The worshiper is expected just to sit still.....it is a passive state, which is meant to allow the individual to listen more attentively to what is spoken. The body, as far as possible, is meant to be ignored" (92).
It is likely that it is this sort of worship experience, particularly those with a Protestant emphasis on the Word, that informs much of the literature on liturgy and ethics. But Protestant suspicion of works is not a sole cause. Elochukwu E. Uzukwu, reflecting on Western liturgy from an African perspective, locates the different attitudes toward the body evidenced in Western vs. African churches in Christianity's Greco-Roman origins:
Body motions were regulated by moderation (modestia). Excesses (or gesticulations) were outlawed. In this universe of belief and reflection, the body was held suspect. It was fallen and an instrument of sin. Any display considered immodest or excessive was removed from the liturgy....God-like immobility or the absence of emotion was preferred to the undisciplined' flexing of the body. Immobility symbolized perfection. God is the unmoved mover" (73).
However, this suspicion of the body is not intrinsic to Christianity, as is evidenced by the far more embodied liturgical celebrations of African-American and Hispanic churches. And it is important for this work to recognize that in these churches in which embodied participation is not suppressed, there often seems to be a higher level of linkage between worship and life. Thus, we must question whether the academic avoidance of the body takes on a certain classist or elitist characteristic.
If we recognize that liturgies produce bodies -- in addition to conveying concepts, shaping vision, molding affections, forming community, through human and divine agency -- then it becomes one of the tasks of liturgists and Christian ethicists to pay particular attention to what sorts of bodies are produced. Do our liturgies simply reinforce the bodies of worshipers as they have already been produced by culture? Using this perspective would provide Christian ethicists a starting point from which to analyze what sorts of bodies current liturgical practices are producing, to critique liturgical practices which produce bodies inconsistent with Christian norms, and to suggest what types of bodies liturgical practices ought to seek to produce. Finally, if ethicists are interested in establishing a real linkage between liturgy and ethics, they will not only have to attend to the embodied dimension of liturgy; it may be the case that the liturgies of Western Christianity will have become more bodily. Absent this revision, it may be unlikely that liturgy will have any significant impact on the lives of parishioners.
Acknowledgments: This paper is dedicated to the memory of John Howard Yoder, a relentlessly challenging yet patient teacher. Research for this paper was supported by a grant from the Forum on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition at the University of Dayton. I would also like to thank friend, mentor, and chair, Terrence W. Tilley for his collegial critique and constructive suggestions.
Bell, Catherine. 1992. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. New York: Oxford University Press.
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. The beginning of serious efforts in this relationship between liturgy and ethics among academic theological ethicists is marked by a plenary at the annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics in 1979, which featured papers by Paul Ramsey and Donald Saliers and a response by Margaret Farley. Interestingly, for my purposes in this paper, when these essays were subsequently published in a 1979 issue of the Journal of Religious Ethics, Fred Carney (then associate editor of the JRE and organizer of the above plenary) also included papers by Ron Green and Martin Yaffe which had been presented at a regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion in a section entitled "Ritual." But while an increasing number of works has been since published by academic ethicists, the bulk of the work in this area has been done by those in liturgical theology or liturgics. Interests of these scholars well precedes that of those in the discipline of ethics. This makes abundant sense, as liturgical theology, especially Roman Catholic liturgical theology, has been significantly influenced by the work of Virgil Michel and the Catholic Liturgical Movement as well as the initiative for liturgical renewal following the Second Vatican Council. Because of these influences, in combination with the Catholic Social Encyclical tradition, the work on liturgy and ethics done by liturgical scholars focuses heavily -- almost exclusively, in fact -- on the topic of social justice and the transformation of society.
. L. Edward Phillips (1993) suggests that writing on the relationship between liturgy and ethics falls into three patterns: liturgy as a source for ethics; liturgy as an object of ethics, and liturgy as central to the Christian ethos. I would further specify of these categories into five (although they overlap with Phillips' remarks): (1) liturgy as ethics; (2) liturgy as an object of ethical critique; (3) liturgy as transformative of the world; (4) liturgy as a source of ethical warrants; and (5) liturgy as formative of the moral agent. This latter category will be the focus of this paper.
. In this literature, a number of different terms and phrases are used: worship (sometimes denoting a highly Word-based or preaching-focused activity), eucharistic liturgy, sacramental liturgy, nonsacramental liturgy, or liturgy broadly. In this paper, I will use the term "liturgy" broadly to encompass all these referents.
. As will be discussed below, Seasoltz also employs Theodore Jennings' notion of ritual knowledge (Journal of Religion 62, 1982) to suggest that "the liturgy as ritual behavior is itself a way of coming to know theologically." That is, liturgy assists people in developing "a right understanding of theology" (54).
. "Dominicae cenae of Pope John Paul II sent in 1980....[the] Eucharist as source and sign of charity helps the faithful to see the dignity and value of each person in the eyes of God... (Weakland, 347).
. While Wadell's article is quite compelling, it does seem a bit...ambitious to say that we could take on "God's view of things." Were Wadell Orthodox, working within a tradition of theosis, it might seem a bit less bold.
. Wadell's discussion parallels Ramsey's appropriation of the work of Hans Frei, wherein he notes: "Perhaps it is also the task of Christian ethics to 'recreate a universe of discourse' and 'put the reader in the middle of it, instructing him in the use of that language by showing how -- extensively, and not only by stating the rules and principles of the discourse.' This seems to me remarkably like the task of 'liturgics' as well" (Ramsey, 1979, 147).
. John Milbank (Theology and Social Theory, 1990) how the concept of the domain of the 'secular,' upon which much of ritual theory is based, was first constructed by the discourses of liberalism.
. Bell actually identifies three ways in which this thought-action dichotomy function within ritual theory. The third way, which we will not explore here, sets up a dichotomy between the ritual-actor and the anthropologist-theorist (thinker), privileging the observer and the constructed discourse while it dominates the theoretical ("nonthinking") subject. This raises an interesting question for exploration vis a vis the literature on liturgy and ethics, insofar as the liturgical theologian or theological ethicist is situated relative to Christian liturgy differently, usually being one of the faithful, than anthropologist-theorists are relative to their objects of study. Regardless, it may still be worthwhile to examine if and how this third dynamic functions within this literature.
. In this context, Bell also analyzes "performance" theory which has explicitly attempted to correct these very problems with ritual theory. She concludes, however, that "despite their insights into the problems of ritual theory [performance theorists do not] effectively break free of a theoretical framework in which activity is seen as dramatizing or enacting prior conceptual entities in order to reaffirm or reexperience them. Grimes, for example, argues for 'the primacy of the body' in ritual studies, but he equates this primacy with the body's 'capacity to enact social roles and body forth cultural meanings' (38-39).
. Bell uses the term "ritualization" to avoid two common definitional problems in ritual theory, one which sees ritual as a distinct and autonomous set of activities and another which finds ritual as an aspect of all human activity (70). Both construals she finds problematic. Bell offers the following definition of ritualization: "Viewed as a practice, ritualization involves the very drawing, in and through the activity itself, of a privileged distinction between ways of acting, specifically between those acts being performed and those being contrasted, mimed, or implicated somehow....At a basic level, ritualization is the production of this differentiation. At a more complex level, ritualization is a way of acting that specifically establishes a privileged contrast, differentiating itself as more important or powerful" (90). Ritualization, then, is seen as a strategic practice relative to particular situations. While I am not completely convinced that Bell avoids the pitfalls she identifies earlier, her approach to ritualization is compelling and worth further exploration.
. She also notes that this process of production can at the same time be a process of resistance.
. I am indebted to Terry Tilley for this example. For a further example consider the Roman Catholic liturgy on Good Friday, wherein the congregation participates in the gospel reading, taking the part of the “crowd.” In shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him! Give us Barabbas!” congregants become those who called for Jesus’ death, who crucified him. Thus, they are produced not just as venial sinners, as most Christians think of themselves, but as those very people who committed the worst possible sin, Jesus’ crucifixion.
. For further reflection between Christian practices and the production of bodies in the early church are recommended: Maureen A. Tilley’s “The Ascetic Body and the (Un)Making of the World of the Martyr,” on how ascetic practices produced bodies ready for martyrdom; and Patricia Cox Miller’s “Desert Asceticism and ‘the Body from Nowhere’” on how the practices of desert asceticism, which from one perspective could be construed as rejecting and disfiguring the body, aimed at least in part at producing angelic bodies.
. On liturgy, body, and memory, see also Sahi 1995.
. Another implication that follows from Buckland's work is that one might argue that one of the important theological function of ritual is that ritual produces 'traditioned' bodies. As Buckland notes, ritual produces bodies with identity, 'cultural memory': "From its earliest moments a child is taught how to control and use [its body....] Through such practices which shape its body, a child develops and expresses its own individuality and comes at the same time to incorporate the identity of is family, class, and community....Through such habitual bodily practices, the experience of previous generations are 'sedimented' in bodies. Through such practices, a body 're-members' its identity. That is to say, it discovers and reinvents, enforces, and reinforces its identity" (51). Tradition here is understood not only as a "deposit" of faith. Vigen Guroian has noted how liturgy is a locus of tradition; Buckland's observation push this one more step and locate the tradition-ing site in the liturgically-produced body. Or as Chauvet further notes: "To be initiated is not to have learned 'truths to believe' but to have received a tradition, in a way through all the pores of one's skin. Initiation comes about through a process of education which is like life: it is not the end of a simple intellectual course (indispensable though such courses may be today), but originally an identity" (31).