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Overview of Ritual & Material Culture

Overview of Ritual & Material Culture


This lesson will provide an overview of the significance of ritual and material culture within the study or world religions.

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Overview of Ritual and Material Culture

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Religions are very interested in the material world and making use of the material world for what they deem higher purposes. So let's take a quick look at material culture and how religions make use of material culture in order to further their belief system.

We can identify many different purposes for ritual. Ritual we could say refers to actions that are performed or symbolic value. And when we talk about symbols, we need to remember that a symbol for religious thinking is not just a mere metaphor, no assemble actually participates in the reality that it symbolizes. So the images that are used actually partake in the reality, they participate in the reality, they are the reality that they symbolize.

So ritual has the symbolic value, but also binds the community together. Who are we, where the people who do this every year, where the people who do this every week, and so forth. So ritual provides a link to sacred history, whether in Judaism, and we're talking about the parting of the Red Sea. Or in Christianity, the crucifixion of Jesus and the Resurrection of Jesus. Or in Islam, the various different trials and tribulations that the profit went through. Or in Hinduism, various events that happened around the river Ganges, and so forth.

So ritual can be a reenactment of the founding myths of the tradition. And here again, myth, we don't mean simply something fictional. But we mean a story that helps to provide a sense of meaning and purpose. Ritual can also mark key transitions, whether that is an important event in the life of an individual, like a marriage ceremony, or an event in the sacred year, like Easter or Pentecost, or something like that, or a event in the life of the community, like founding a new synagogue, a new mosque, a new temple. It can also mark the transitions in the year, so we can view ritual as kind of joining in the rhythm of the seasons. Most religions have some kind of calendar throughout the year that they follow.

We could also say that virtual is a harnessing of the senses for spiritual purposes. Maybe the best example of this is the Orthodox churches where the entire church is covered in beautiful icons. The smell of incense is the air. The priest may come around with a candle and shine the light on the worshipers. The gospel is often processed. Other churches do this as well, but it's perhaps most vivid in the Orthodox Church.

So ritual has all of these different functions and ritual is one of the most unique and powerful things about religion. We said that ritual is a set of symbolic actions, that is it refers to actions that participate in the reality which they figuratively represent. Ritual ties together community it marks important events in the calendar of the individual's life. It also ties the individual believer back to sacred history.

Through ritual, the community reaffirms its belief system and unites the various individuals together into one body. We just have two vocabulary terms. Ritual is a set of actions performed mainly for their symbolic value. And material culture, a term referring to the relationship between artifacts and social relations.

Terms to Know
Material Culture

A term referring to the relationship between artifacts and social relations.


A set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value.