Why are rituals important throughout the life course?

Essay by geoffrey325University, Master's November 2002

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When ritual is spoken of in Western society, images of cute, charming and sometimes dangerous activities of 'native' societies tend to be conjured up into the mind. Television seems to be full of ceremonies which, at best, tend to be thought of as quaint, at worst, acted out for the tourist industry. Religious belief is on the decline in Western society and this also contributes to the general outlook on rituals and rites.

Western industrial society has idolised ideals, rationality and a limited type of practicality and all too often regards the conscious ritual of other cultures as a frivolous curiosity (LaChapelle, 1984:1-6). We have forgotten much in the last 300 hundred years that we should remember the fact that Western society not only had, but still has, rituals and rites of passage. In this essay I will point out that whether we accept it or not, ritual is an essential part of the life course, even though the act of performing and perceiving ritual may be unconscious.

Ritual can often be viewed as habit or regularities (Cohen & Taylor, 1998:46-65). The daily process of getting out of bed, washing, brushing teeth and going to work or school is an unconscious ritual that millions of humankind goes through. These microsocial rituals, or regularities, may well appear never ending and spread their way throughout life's course. Members of any given society may well try to break away from these rituals, but more often than not the 'escape' is only temporary. To 'get away from it all' may well lead to other types of unconscious ritual.

Victor Turner (1974:298) has argued that the dialectical relationship of ritual and social structure facilitates creative responses to the negative aspects of daily social structure, and that these responses include alienation, divisiveness and exploitation. Ritual...