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Ritual Change and Social Transformation in Migrant Societies

Edited By Hans-Georg Soeffner and Dariuš Zifonun

Migration involves change of geographical place, social relations and cultural habits. This volume brings together contributions from an international group of scholars including studies of ritual change and social transformation in Singapore, Germany and the US.
In situations of change, individuals as well as social groups mobilize rituals to reaffirm a sense of identity. Usually thinking of rituals as fixed sets of symbolic behaviour, handed down through generations, migration forces a fresh look at rituals: that they are open to change and adjustment as well as means of social transformation. The authors show the challenge of the transformation of symbolic behaviour for those who experience spatial and social change. They emphasise that ritual change is also common when cultures become intercultural.
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Migration and Reconfiguration of Religious Rituals: The Case of Iranians in Southern California

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Introduction

In the twentieth century, transnational migration became a global phenomenon. The increased mobility of people, goods and information made it difficult for scholars to explore “culture”, which was once thought of as a product of human activity. Arjun Appadurai criticized the linkage between culture as an invariant “whole” and a bounded place in the anthropological imagination (Appadurai 1988). Scholars have since questioned the trinity of group, culture and space. Ritual is one of the focal points through which to see the relationship between migration and the transformation of sets of human activities that cannot be thought of as an invariant “wholes”: Clifford Geertz considered ritual as a consecrated behavior which confers authenticity on religion as “a system of symbols” (Geertz 1993: 90, 112). Other anthropologists have similarly regarded ritual as having some encoded meaning and thus as capable of being decoded (cf. Turner 1969). However, it is difficult to grasp contemporary religious rituals merely through such functions, particularly in light of globalization, because the system of symbols is changed by the frequent movement of people and information around the globe.

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