REDO seminar with Bruce Kapferer and Jens Kreinath, May 2014

May 2014, REDO hosted two seminars at the University of Oslo. The first seminar concerned rituals and sacrifice, and the ethics and challenges in representing rituals visually. The second seminar focused on the sub project investigating the reactions to the July 22 terror attack, and the experimental methods used in this research.


Bruce Kapferer and Jens Kreinath. Photo: UiO.

Monday May 26

This seminar was concerned with both the practical methodological implications of filming rituals and the ethical considerations when representing controversial ritual practices. Two ethnographic films were screened – both depicting ritual sacrifices. The topic sacrifice in ritual was the theme for the last session of this seminar, engaging with the 22/7 terrorism case as sacrifice.


Part 1: ”Filming Rituals I – New Knowledge and Visual Representations”


Screening – ”Le Maitres Fous” Jean Rouch (1955).

The day started with the screening of Rouch controversial ethnographic film classic ”Le Maitres Fous” – The Mad Masters. The film shows the performance of secret Hauka rituals in Ghana in the 1950s.

The film was controversial for apparently showing Africans mimicking their white oppressors. It has also been important for cinematic reasons – with the technical equipment available to Rouch the filming of the rituals could not happen in real time – raising questions about staging of events in visual representations of rituals. Moreover, the shallow structural functional analysis of the Hauka rituals has been critiqued by many.


Guest Lecture: ”Filming rituals - Implications of Visual Culture for the Anthropological Study of Religion”

Jens Kreinath, Associate Professor Social Anthropology, Wichita State University, USA

Kreinath’s main argument was that the development of anthropological studies of rituals is deeply influenced by the developments within visual technology, and visual representations of religious life.

The possibilities of representing rituals visually had consequences for the ocularcentrism in anthropological studies of religion. The concept of ritual transformed according to modalities in modern visual culture. 

You can listen to Kreinath’s lecture here.


Bruce Kapferer, Professor of Social Anthropology at the Universitety of Bergen was the invited respondent.

His comments concerned how developments within visual culture have been significant for research in the way that it has shown what would otherwise be left unseen. His critique of Kreinath’s lecture concerned the links between ritual theory and theatre. Analyses of rituals have been influenced by drama and theatre, using metaphors from this arena rather than visual culture. Both Victor Turner and Erving Goffmann are influential ritual theorists relying heavily on theatrical metaphors in their work.

The reason why anthropologists have been filming rituals is the representational aspect – but rituals are more than representation. Rituals penetrate beneath the surface of human experience, potentially providing deep understanding of people’s existential lives – and great dramas.


Part 2: “Filming Rituals II – Ethical Dilemmas in Representing Controversial Ritual Practices”


Screening – “Umemulo” Jone Salomonsen (2008)


Jone Salomonsen screened her ethnographic film from South Africa, showing an initiation ritual for a young girl. The film provoked strong reactions from both South African scholars and Norwegian theologians, for displaying improvisation of rituals and nudity.


After the screening, Jan Ketil Simonsen, Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at NTNU opened the discussion on ethical dilemmas in representing ritual practices, using perspectives from anthropology discussing both Le Maitres Fous and Umemulo.


Part 3: “Is Sacrifice Constitutive of Rituals?”


This part of the seminar continued on the topic of the films and the lecture: rituals. Here, the question was raised whether sacrifice is the constituent part of rituals.


Jone Salomonsen presented on the massacre July 22, and Behring Breiviks ideological foundation, expressed in youtube-videos, a written manifesto, and the trial. Breivik saw his act as a sacrifice – and as an orchestrated act it can be interpreted as a ritual. Breivik calls himself a cultural Christian and a cultural odinist, needing both paganism and Christianity to create his own ideology, where he takes on the role as the magician, in control of occult knowledge – orchestrating what he argues was a necessary sacrifice.


Gitte Buch-Hansen presented from the fieldwork she is conducting together with Marlene Ringgaard Lorentzen. They are tracing the connections between the Apostle Church in Copenhagen and surrounding arenas for inter-religious interaction and ritual meals. The users are asylum seekers and other marginalized parts of the population – often belonging to other religions than the Christianity professed in the churches they visit.

The focus on food, both in the scripture, and in the practices within the churches, is prominent, and Buch-Hansen asks whether this consumption can be seen as the main ritual practice –as all meals are ritualized performances. Through the ritualized meals identities are consumed.


Bruce Kapferer ended the day with by presenting his argument on rituals and sacrifice. Referring to discussions on the definitions of ritual, Kapferer argued that if there should be a definition, it should be that sacrifice is ritual. The sacrifice is not merely constituent of the ritual, but it is the critical event making the act a ritual. The sacrifice does not necessarily have to be an act of killing, rather the ritual is anti-killing.

The ritual, as argued by Turner and others, is changing something – it is a deconstruction of a totality, and a reconstruction of a whole, a reconstitution of the world.



Tuesday May 27


The Tuesday workshop was a fruitful and efficient discussion of the individual projects within the REDO project, and the practical and theoretical implications and challenges of arranging a big workshop as part of the research on July 22.


In October, REDO will stage a workshop in Oslo, inviting young people to engage in the discussions on the meaning of July 22 and the consequences of the event. How has July 22 effected the society, how are young people affected, and what rituals might help the society remember the events?


What can a method like this be framed? It is ethnography, but not in the regular anthropological sense where an ethnographer becomes immersed in the community she tries to understand. Rather, a situation is staged to provoke reactions, and to explore what happens when people come together – as an alternative to f.ex conducting separate interviews. Many alternatives were discussed – how can this be a successful research stunt? Can artists contribute into the project?

The term “constructive ethnography” was suggested. With a reference to “constructive theology” - this is creative ethnography on what might come into being.

Published July 30, 2014 11:29 AM - Last modified Apr. 27, 2017 9:14 PM