Accepted Paper:

Ritualization and the reflexive critique of scientism  

Author:

Christopher Roberts (Reed College)

Paper short abstract:

The study of ritualization leads to conflict with scientism, defined here as any theory that depends upon singular epistemological breaks to separate a given field from its religious, ritual, or ideological antecedents. The putatively objective nature of ritual studies -- and by extension, scholarly practice as a whole -- shifts to become a mode of involvement, for instead of encoding ritual phenomena into a non-ritual metalanguage, we now have the charged interface between different ritual systems and conflicting ritual expectations.

Paper long abstract:

This paper begins with the premise that the study of ritual depends upon a reflexive practice that acknowledges the scholar\'s dependence upon the phenomena that s/he would scrutinize. As ritual studies has come to encompass reinterpretations of ritual as formalization, performance, and, the objectification of ritualization as strategic practice, this history provides the resources for constructing a post-theoretical perspective that rejects the reifications intrinsic to scientism. Such an auto-critical perspective overcomes scientism by addressing the myriad ways that scholars depend upon ritualization even as they take it as an object of scrutiny. If one draws upon the ethnographic and historical work of Bruno Latour and the Edinburgh Science Studies Unit, one can see that ritualization and scientific research differ not in kind but in degree, for both deploy the strategic weaving of received behavior with innovation to produce desired outcomes (felicitous ritual performances, successful experiments) and reproduce ritual or scientific agents. Ritualization thus brings the field into direct conflict with scientism and all other theories that depend upon singular epistemological breaks to separate a given field from its religious, ritual, or ideological antecedents. The putatively objective nature of ritual studies -- and by extension, scholarly practice as a whole -- shifts to become a mode of involvement, for instead of encoding ritual phenomena into a non-ritual metalanguage, we now have the charged interface between different ritual systems and conflicting ritual expectations.

Panel W005
Reflecting on reflexivity in anthropology and social science