- Generally, an often-repeated pattern of behaviour which is performed at appropriate times, and which may involve the use of symbols . Religion is one of the main social fields in which rituals operate, but the scope of ritual extends into secular and everyday life as well. For example, the dramaturgical sociology of Erving Goffman makes extensive reference to ‘interaction rituals’, the various ritualized codes of everyday behaviour by which actors co-operate in acknowledging a shared reality and preserve each other's sense of self (see his Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behaviour, 1967).The Durkheimian approach (The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 1912) makes a strong distinction between the sacred and the profane and locates rituals firmly in the former category. For Durkheimians, rituals create social solidarity, which is necessary to hold society together. Durkheim reduced ritual to social structure since he asserted that, through rituals, people correctly represent to themselves the pattern of relations in society. For Durkheim, the unit of significance in ritual is action, since action causes beliefs, not vice versa. Durkheim thus accorded to ritual a primary epistemological role-insisting that the necessary building-blocks of thought are transmitted through the shared ‘effervescence’ of ritual. Christel Lane's The Rites of Rulers: Ritual in Industrial Society (1981) is a fascinating contemporary example of a Durkheimian interpretation of the socialist rituals of the former Soviet Union.The Marxist approach to ritual, by contrast, proposes that rituals transmit only false consciousness . They mystify their participants by misrepresenting the pattern of social relations in the society (see, for example,, From Blessing to Violence, 1986).A framework for categorizing the general structure of rituals was proposed by the Belgian anthropologist Arnold van Gennep (The Rites of Passage, 1909). Van Gennep wrote that a person is not just born into society, but has to be re-created through rites of passage as a social individual, and accepted into society. He outlined three stages in such rites, which transform the social identity of the initiand: separation, or the detaching of an individual from his or her former status; liminality, where the initiand is in ‘limbo’, having been detached from the old status but not yet attached to the new; and reincorporation, in which the passage from one status to another is consummated symbolically.A common criticism of sociological interpretations of ritual is that analysts have merely imposed their own meaning on the events. G. Lewis (Day of Shining Red, 1980) argues that the search for meaning in rites outweighs the concern for what people may feel about them; that is, the emotional aspects. Thus rituals become like crossword puzzles-to be decoded in the hands of anthropologists and sociologists. Lewis argues that rituals must be understood in the terms of the participants' own meanings as well as those of the analyst.
Dictionary of sociology. 2013.