Paris REDO workshop framework
The 23-26 April REDO workshop in France was more or less centered on the following question : are the ritual or ritualized practices we are studying effective, and what do we mean by this? In other words : what type of effects might we expect these practices to have, do they indeed have them, and how can we evaluate these effects?
A first issue relates to the social effectiveness of these practices. Can they be said to further certain ideological or practical agendas (such as “reassembling democracy” or environmental protection) by bringing about or contributing to changes in the functioning of institutional bodies or in the way people feel, think and act in their everyday lives? This issue is at once conceptual (what counts as “change”?), methodological (how are such “changes” to be determined?), and empirical (do these “changes” indeed take place?). It raises questions concerning the potential of different (bodily, symbolic, legislative, etc.) modes of collective expression, and their emergence in different (political, civic, personal, etc.) spheres of action.
A second issue relates to the ritual effectiveness of these practices. Are they successful as rituals (or instances of ritualized behavior), and what exactly might such “success” entail? This obviously implies a theory (or two) regarding the distinctive qualities of ritual or ritualized action as such: what it is, what it does, etc. This issue is important for religious studies scholars. The Eucharist is not just a shared meal, but a ritual communion, a large-scale spontaneous memorial is not just a pubic assembly but a ritual one (or is it?), a pilgrimage is not just a walk, but a ritual journey, some protest actions are not just demonstrations of dissenting convictions but highly ritualized ones, many festival performances are not just displays but ritual events, etc. What makes for the “ritual” quality of these practices, and what consequences does it have?
It is hoped that by addressing these two issues we will be better equipped to ask (and hopefully answer) the question that lies at the heart of the REDO project: in what manner might the ritual effectiveness of the practices we are studying contribute (or not) to their social effectiveness? In other words, how can ritual (help to) save the planet?
In preparation for the workshop, REDO project members are asked to submit a small preliminary paper (5000-7000 words including references) based on their sub-project material and dealing with at least some aspects of these issues. These texts are to be thought of as first drafts of one of the journal articles or book chapters we have all committed ourselves to writing within the framework of our participation in the project. In this respect, the “Publications plan” recently sent around by Sarah should be kept in mind. The idea is that we all read each other’s papers in advance, and as many of them as possible will be discussed during the two full days of the workshop (April 24 and 25) at the Chateau de Rosay in Normandy (http://chateauform.fr/fr/chateauform/maison/8/chateau-de-rosay). The deadlines are March 20 for abstracts, and April 10 for the papers themselves.
The practices studied in the REDO sub-projects are diverse: open assemblies of mourning, indigenous, community-based or alternative festivals, pilgrimages, collective dancing, innovative forms of the Eucharist, environmental protest, the Occupy movement, rural ecotourism, reforestation projects, interreligious musical performances, etc. The disciplinary traditions project members draw upon are also diverse: religious studies, history, anthropology, philosophy, theology, sociology, political science, etc. We should therefore expect significant divergence in how each of us tackles the issues of ritual and social effectiveness. It is up to us to bring these differences into conversation and debate, so as to allow for a better understanding of the (conceptual, methodological and empirical) advantages and disadvantages of our respective accounts. This should help us to identify the complementarities that link our different approaches and the degree to which they are upheld by shared concerns. A number of local scholars, among them Bruno Latour, will contribute to these goals by participating in discussions during the workshop. Suggested readings regarding Latour’s work and those of closely related contemporary scholars are provided below.
The other local scholars participating in workshop discussions are anthropologists, specialists in the field of ritual and sensitive to the issues central to the REDO project: Gregory Delaplace who works in Mongolia on funerary rites, relationships with ghosts and the dead, and local conceptions of territory ; Emma Gobin working on afro-cuban religious rituals and New Age practices in Cuba ; Marika Moisseeff who works on Austrialian Aboriginal populations and on contemporary Western notions of the body and the person ; Anne-Christine Taylor, who works in Amazonia on ritual, indigenous notions of subjecthood, and social memory. Published work of theirs can be found on their respective Web pages.
A separate, preparatory session on methods, for REDO project members only, will also take place the afternoon of April 22 in Paris. In order for this session to be as concrete and helpful as possible, all the while remaining fairly open ended, interested participants are invited to submit (by April 15) 5-10 lines of text outlining a methodological issue or problem that they have come up against or that they anticipate coming up against in their research projects. The session will be devoted to discussing four or five of these problems.