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Ritual and Semiotics

With an introduction by Roberta Kevelson


J. Ralph Lindgren and Jay Knaak

Discussions of both semiotics and ritual have undergone a fundamental reorientation over the past several decades. Traditionally, both were east in a cognitivist vocabulary in which what is known is regarded as primitive and what is done is treated as behavior scripted by knowledge. When treated in this way, semiotics reduces to studies of the encoding and decoding of messages and ritual studies to articulations of the mythic content imbedded in ritual practices.
The inadequacy of a cognitivist vocabulary for these purposes has recently been argued by researchers who mounted historical studies of both sign systems and ritual practices. These studies flesh out an alternative, non-cognitivist vocabulary. According to this approach primacy is to be accorded to process over structure, to practice over knowledge, to ritual over ideology.
A non-cognitive approach has not only invigorated both ritual studies and semiotics, but has also uncovered mutual dependencies that have previously escaped attention. In many respects, sign systems alternatively emerge ritual practices and in turn transform ritual practices in fundamental ways. The essays in this volume explore some of the key aspects in which rituals and sign systems form, interact, reinforce, transform and interpret one another, especially in the context of legal institutions.
Contents: Denis J. Brion: The Ritual of the Judicial Opinion - Vivian Grosswald Curran: What Should One Think of Judicial Ritual in Law? - Antoine Garapon: Que faut-il penser du rituel judiciaire? - David I. Kertzer: The Hammer and Sickle in Court Symbolic Struggle in the Italian Communist Party - J. Ralph Lindgren: Semiosis, Ritualization and Magic - Emily W. Salus: Aladdin and the Law - Peter H. Salus: 'Incest' in Babylonia, Anatolia and India - Agnes T.M. Schreiner: So, this is how it is done... - Christopher Stanley: Si(g)ns of the Flesh: Law, Violence and Inscription upon the Body - James H. Ware Jr.: Legislating Religious Rituals: How Communion is Regulated in Some Protestant Denominations - Willem J. Witteveen: Enacting Law: Ritual Performances in Dutch Political Culture.