Abstract/Details

Ritual syntax


2004 2004

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Abstract (summary)

Frits Staal developed a theory of ritual in the late 1970s that is well-known to ritual studies scholars, though consistently misunderstood. Most attention has focused on Staal's claim that rituals are meaningless, since this seems contrary to most theories of ritual, and to professed beliefs of ritual practitioners. I show that Staal's treatment of meaning is more subtle than most readers allow, and I demonstrate that other theorists make similar claims, but my main focus is on another part of Staal's theory: the claim that rituals have the same formal structure, or syntax, as natural languages. Staal adapts to ritual an approach originally developed for language by Noam Chomsky, to the effect that ritual structure is sufficiently complex that it can only be modeled by what is known as a Context Sensitive Language. Seen in this light, Staal's theory is really a cognitive theory of ritual, in other words it is a theory of the mental qualities that are necessary for a person's actions to count as ritual actions. My final chapter therefore considers this theory in the light of recent, cognitive approaches to religion, especially the work of Dan Sperber and Pascal Boyer. Most work in the cognitive science of religion relies on methods from cognitive psychology, and Staal's theory is unique in presenting a computational model of ritual structure. It focuses our attention on the sequential ordering of the elementary actions that compose ritual sequences, and in the process it opens up a wide range of research programs for ethnologists and historians, as well as for ritual studies theorists. Staal's theory is based on data from the Vedic ritual tradition, especially the fieldwork he pursued on a performance of the Agnicayana in South India; in the process of examining Staal's theory, I consider a variety of topics relating to South Asian and Vedic ritual and grammatical theory, and I supplement this with a look at exempla from other ritual cultures. In addition to a thorough analysis and critique of Staal's theory, I provide the foundation for what I call a “distributional” study of ritual structure.

Indexing (details)


Subject
Religion
Classification
0318: Religion
Identifier / keyword
Philosophy, religion and theology, Boyer, Pascal, Comparative religion, Dan Sperber, Frits Staal, Pascal Boyer, Ritual, Sperber, Dan, Staal, Frits, Vedic ritual
Title
Ritual syntax
Author
Seaquist, Carl Andrew
Number of pages
313
Publication year
2004
Degree date
2004
School code
0175
Source
DAI-A 65/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Advisor
Welbon, Guy
University/institution
University of Pennsylvania
University location
United States -- Pennsylvania
Degree
Ph.D.
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Language
English
Document type
Dissertation/Thesis
Dissertation/thesis number
3125896
ProQuest document ID
305142079
Copyright
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
http://search.proquest.com/docview/305142079
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