Reassembling Democracy: Ritual as Cultural Resource
Ritual acts construct, reveal and mobilize pervasive cultural resources. However, ritual is not merely a mobilizer, constructed by the social.
Ritual actions promote and mobilize society's cultural values. Can they also contribute to how societies change, and can they expand democratic processes?
Norwegian and international researchers in the REDO project investigate new social and ritual gestures that require or use participatory democracy or radical consensus methods in their constitution. This is done through a broad interdisciplinary research project on the importance and impact of religious and cultural rituals on contemporary society.
The researchers are particularly interested in whether increasing multiculturalism, religious diversity, climate awareness and commitment to global justice create new conditions or needs for community and new, mobilizing ritual movements. On the other hand, could a greater ritual variety have a direct impact on society's democratic processes? When people engage in or develop new rituals, are new patterns of participation and action that can have influence on society created simultaneously?
The significance of July 22
In Norway, the ritual response to July 22 is an important focus. In the research group working with the meaning of July 22, we take a closer look at the importance of the rituals, ceremonies and gatherings of people that took place in Norway after July 22.
We look at the cultural values that were mobilized in the days following the terror and examine what significance the community from that time can still have for individuals and communities. Was there established ritual acts that will be replicated in the future? How do adolescents and young adults wish to commemorate the events? Is there room for remembrance of both victims, survivors and those who were marked forever? And what about the young people’s care for each other as they risked their lives on Utøya? Is that remembered and represented? Have our multicultural society established a new ritual foundation in the aftermath of July 22 which can carry grief and express hope, or must individuals seek out "their own" in times of crisis ? Was a new people constituted ritually in the streets of Oslo in the days following the terror, or is everything as before?
The group is led by Professor Jone Salomonsen. She has conducted research in the trial of the convicted terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. Cora Alexa Døving is studying public commemorations after July 22 and Ida Marie Høeg focuses her research on inter-religious funerals of victims of the terrorist acts .
How July 22 is recalled in 2014 , the year of celebration of the national constitution anniversary in Norway, will be an important focus for future research. As part of this research we will arrange a Charette inspired workshop October 2014. The workshop is participative research, where young adults in Oslo will be invited to answer questions concerning the way July 22 affected them and the society.
Our research group is studying local rituals in different countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and America. What kind of ritual forms and gestures are mobilized by groups and non-profit organizations as part of their response to terrorism, climate crisis, economic and social insecurity? The researchers are keen to create new knowledge and critically examine what these rituals do or don’t do for and to people.
Beyond the focus on July 22, the research in Norway is focused on new pilgrimages, festivals and the environmental movement. Marion Grau examines the increased interest in pilgrimages in Europe, and sees this in the context of a renewed interest in Christian national heritage, closeness to nature and exploration of spiritual and cultural roots. In Norway, she focuses on pilgrimages to Nidaros and Selja. Graham Harvey looks at the interface between indigenous and "non-indigenous", rituals and performances, and community and individualization by comparing practices in the Riddu Riddu festival in Kåfjord and the Origins festival in London. Mari Lilleslåtten will undertake a project on the Norwegian environmental movement, and thereby illuminate political participation post- July 22, with a special awareness of the values promoted and practiced in human encounters with nature.
International research also explores local ritual forms. Sarah Pike is investigating environmental activism in the United States, looking at the protest rituals of radical environmental groups. She asks what motivates young people to expose themselves to great risks on behalf of other species, and how youth are created as social actors through protest rituals. Paul- François Tremlett looks at the ongoing activity of the anti-capitalist Occupy movement, and analyzes the practice in Occupy groups in London and Hong Kong as moral rituals.
Sidsel Roalkvam interrogates the mobilization for change globally, through the idea of citizenship without borders. Through an ethnographic study of The People's Health Movement in India she sees rituals as a tool of political mobilization. Lotte Danielsen looks at the periphery of political protests. What is the role of women’s absence in social movements in Africa? Danielsen looks at mothers in rural areas, and how their strategies in the face of economic and ecological crisis differ from those in urban social movements
Inter-Religious Meetings and Ritual Renewal
The festival as a venue for the practice and challenge of rituals is the subject of several researchers in the REDO project. Samuel Etikpah is comparing two local festivals in Ghana with a focus on inter- religious cooperation as the basis for societal developments. He asks if festivals can help renegotiation of personal, ethnic and gender identity, and to recreate social ties. Grzegorz Brzozowski analyzes the Polish Woodstock festival, which refers to the original Woodstock festival, while simultaneously including new religious and secular rituals. He asks how modern and traditional rituals can coexist in the festival context, and how religious pluralism can be maintained without polarization.
Michael Houseman studies ritual dance in neo-paganism, New Age and initiatives for spiritual development. Building on his previous research on ritual performance he will investigate collective dancing in a context of ritual pluralism, to evaluate the potential of dance for recreation of cultural patterns and mobilization for social change.
Inter-religious encounters and the renewal of rituals are explored in several projects. Gitte Buch-Hansen studies new practices related to the communion in multicultural churches in Copenhagen. What happens when the ritualized meal changes and the bread becomes the venue for the negotiation of Christian identity and social inclusion? Jens Kreinath has done research on the Choir of Civilizations in Hatay, Turkey. He looks at how the inter-religious choir, which was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, is affecting and transforming the interaction between local religious society and democratization process in the region.
Nature as Practice
Nature as a key player is important in REDO. Multiple projects open for studies of nature and non-human species with a new awareness. Tony Balcomb is working in the Masvingo area north of Zimbabwe, following the ritual opposition to deforestation and ecological crisis. The integration of new and old cosmology, local tradition and Christian influence is the basis for the ritual practice that occurs in the movement against deforestation. Donna L. Seamone is looking at small-scale intimate relationships to land, food and communities. By looking at ecotourism, agriculture markets, the slow -food movement and permaculture east in Canada, she explores how farmers’ relation to soil is ritualized and performed in front of a new audience, in an era where traditional rural ways of life are threatened.
Most projects in the REDO are empirical and based on qualitative research material. However, some work theoretically, to develop the analytical foundation for the research project. Morny Joy draws inspiration from philosophers of religion and theologians who can help to form a theoretical base for understanding changes in ritual practice in contemporary social movements and in a more reflective form of cultural production. She leans on theorists like Catherine Keller, Hannah Arendt and Grace Jantzen. Kjetil Hafstad is working with the concept of evil, and approaching this in two cases of ritual resistance to oppression: Martin Luther's opposition to the Catholic Pope by throwing the bull of ban into fire in 1520, compared with Professor Karl Barth’s refusal to take the oath of allegiance to Hitler in 1934. Both were theologians who worked with the opposition to evil, and this is what Hafstad explores.