Enacting rites and thinking critically are often imagined to be mutually exclusive activities. The purpose of this book is to demonstrate their complementarity by presenting case studies in which ritual and criticism require one another. The studies are drawn from contemporary, urban, North American social contexts, in which specific rites are being evaluated, interpreted, or revised. The cases eventuate in essays, more theoretically focused treatments of critical issues in ritual studies. The contribution of the book lies in its interdisciplinary approach to a topic seldom, if ever, written about: the evaluation of ritual.
The rites studied are as varied as the strategies utilized. The diversity is deliberate; its purpose is to illustrate the ways criticism shifts as types of ritual vary. One rite is a traditional liturgy; another is invented rather than traditional; a third is a hybrid genre, ritual drama; and in a fourth instance the ritualization is so tacit that some might deny it is ritual at all. Many of the contexts that provide data for the chapters of Ritual Criticism are typified by syncretism, the eclectic mixing and matching of ritual elements from diverse traditions. And many involve attempts to engage in ritual invention and experimentation.
The essays are likewise diverse. The range of topics takes us into territory traditionally the purview of several disciplines. Drama, literature, education, psychology, medicine, archeology, anthropology, philosophy, and theology are traversed in this effort to understand ritual, an unusually "impure" genre of human activity. Ritual implicates all of these but does not belong to any one of them.
Ronald L. Grimes is a professor of Religion and Culture in Waterloo, Canada. He is also the general editor of the Journal of Ritual Studies and author of several books including Beginnings in Ritual Studies and Research in Ritual Studies.