- Paul PostPaul PostTilburg University
Ritual studies is not a school, nor is it a theory or a method; it is a multi- or interdisciplinary platform for the academic, critical, and systematic study of ritual, or in the words of the founding father of ritual studies, Ronald Grimes: it is a field. The platform of ritual studies, which emerged in the mid-1970s, initially combined the fields of religious studies, anthropology, liturgical studies, and theater studies.
The emergence of ritual studies as a field of research of its own fits seamlessly into a broader development in academia that took place in three phases. The first phase took place during the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, when academic disciplines came into being and formed distinct profiles. The study of ritual plays a prominent role in (comparative) religious studies (Eliade, Otto, Van der Leeuw), in philosophy (ritual and symbol, Ricoeur), in anthropology and sociology (Durkheim, Turner), in psychology (Jung), and in cultural history (Huizinga). There was at this time remarkably little interest in ritual among theologians. It was not until the influence of the Liturgical Movement that a change occurred. The second phase took place during the long decade of the 1960s, which saw the start of a fruitful interdisciplinary phase. Rituals were thought to offer an effective entrance into a culture, allowing one to penetrate it deeply. The liturgical renewal project also took place after Vaticanum II, and it was in this setting that the term “ritual studies” was first used by the American Academy of Religion in 1977. The beginning of the 21st century saw the start of a new phase, during which different disciplines have been connected and integrated into large, multidisciplinary thematic clusters. In this context, the field of ritual studies features in a broad range of studies, including cultural memory studies, media and communication studies, death studies, leisure studies, material religion studies, migration studies, and many others.