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A ritual (from the Latin ritualis 'related to the rite ', ritual) is a mostly formal and often solemn, festive act with a high symbolic content that proceeds according to predetermined rules . It is often accompanied by specific word formulas and fixed gestures and can be religious or secular in nature (e.g. worship, greeting, wedding, funeral, reception ceremony, etc.). A fixed ceremonial (order) of rituals or ritual actions is called a rite . Some rituals are considered cultural assets .

Functions, elements and forms of the ritual

Rituals are a phenomenon of interaction with the environment and can be described as regulated communication processes (cf. Walter Burkert's definition of ritual as a communicative act). They mainly take place in the area of ​​human interaction, where ritual behavior is determined by social customs, conventions and rules and can be practiced in a wide variety of social contexts (encounters, family life , rulers , events, festivals and celebrations, religious cults and ceremonies, etc.) . At the same time, rituals or ritualized modes of action can also be found on the level of individual behavior (personal rituals, autistic rituals, compulsive acts ).

A ritual is usually culturally involved or conditioned. It makes use of structured means to make the meaning of an action visible or comprehensible or to symbolically represent or refer to meaningful contexts that go beyond their mundane everyday meaning. According to Carel van Schaik and Kai Michel, the material ritual acts are mostly modified everyday activities that revolve around harvest and nutrition, exchange or celebration. Because they are carried out jointly , many rituals also have a unifying and integrating character and promote group cohesion and intersubjective understanding.

By making use of ready-made courses of action and familiar symbols , rituals convey support and orientation . The ritual simplifies the handling of complex everyday situations by “repeating highly charged, crisis-like events into routine processes”. Rituals make it easier to deal with the world, make decisions and communicate. In this context, the philosopher Christoph Türcke describes rituals as repetitive structures and speaks of “coagulated, sedimented repetition”, which enables people to understand the world carefully. This does not rule out that rituals can be interpreted ambiguously or wrongly.

In addition, rituals enable the symbolic examination of basic questions of human existence , such as the need for interpersonal relationships , the pursuit of security and order, the knowledge of one's own mortality or the belief in a transcendent reality (e.g. through friendship rituals, state rituals, Funeral rituals , grave goods ). Such rituals are therefore an expression of the human condition , human self-confidence , the symbolic constitution of human activity and, in the opinion of some anthropological thinkers (such as Helmuth Plessner ), a kind of “disposition” (to put it simply) of people towards religiosity . In the ritual worship of the deity (especially in the regularly repeated act of sacrifice ) rituals refer to the human need to restore an existential world and life order that is perceived as endangered.

In addition to their symbolic function, rituals also have instrumental-pragmatic functions, i.e. purposeful character (e.g. rituals of rule, law, pacification). In premodern societies they fulfilled many functions that are performed today by specialized institutions or organizations. The legitimacy through social processes replaced in many areas the ritual.

According to Karl Bücher, rituals also serve to create rhythm in temporal and social processes. So there is

Often rituals are tied to places and spaces. The spectrum ranges from sacred and public places to seating arrangements. In addition to specific insignia , clothing and language, certain types of movement, non-verbal signals, gestures, etc. also play a role in performing the ritual. While some rituals are extremely formalized and their sequence is determined, others are characterized by greater openness of form.

Rituals that can only be understood or practiced by the “initiated” can also serve to exclude or control the “ignorant”. Magic rites and cults or secret doctrines are particularly strongly influenced by such elitist or mysterious rituals . Also the shamanistic rituals practiced in many cultures , which are supposed to invoke or conjure up the spirits of animals, plants or the deceased, are usually only known to selected shamans or healers . Even modern professions make use of strongly ritualized forms of communication.

Sometimes the effects of rituals turn into negative effects, they are perceived as being worn out, outdated, meaningless or counterproductive and are then critically examined. If rituals are extinguished or canceled by opposing ritual acts, one speaks of inversion (reversal) of the ritual.

Obsessive-compulsive rituals (compulsive acts) that are practiced by those affected against their will in connection with obsessive-compulsive disorder are medically relevant .

The human sacrifice and ritual murder are forms of ritual killing of a person.

Catholic divine service in Riga:
Divine services are generally strongly characterized by rituals (here e.g. the kneeling of the believers, special garments of the participants etc.). The church as a ritual building is specially designed for this (lighting effects, furnishings, etc.).

Religious rituals

Rituals are often anchored in the field of religion ( see in more detail: Religious rites and basic terms of the sociology of religion ). According to the Swedish religious scholar Geo Widengren , religious ritual is closely related to myth . Such rituals promote the cohesion of religious groups. The analysis of data on 83 American religious communities from the 19th century showed that religious communities are more durable the more they are determined by rituals and fixed rules of conduct. The rite is the center, the heart of religion . Such a connection can supposedly not be established for secular communities.

Religious rituals play a prominent role , especially in traditional societies : They are intended to make people aware again and again that deviations from the traditional way of life do not offer any security of survival and should therefore not be tolerated.

Healing rituals

Healing rituals are a field of alternative medical treatment methods, which in many cultures include obsession cults for healing a patient who, according to popular belief, is supposed to be afflicted by a disease-causing spirit. The procedures of the potentization process in homeopathy , which claims a selective increase in desired effects, but contradicts scientific knowledge and the basic principle of evidence-based medicine , follow a strictly defined sequence and are referred to as “ritual”. Accordingly, both the production and the daily intake of globules represent an alternative medical method in which rituals are an integral part. Healing rituals are an essential factor in naturopathy in general.

The doctor-patient interaction with its defined mutual expectations, roles, processes, backdrops and symbols has an overall ritual character, the influence of which is recorded in the placebo research.

Social science research and practice

A number of social sciences deal with rituals , including ethnology , sociology , psychology , pedagogy , religious studies and political science . The historical research is dedicated to the term symbolic communication of systematic historical research on rituals. Ethnologically, observable rituals are often an introduction to research into tribal cultures .

Sociologically, rituals can be observed in all societies . For example, rituals of power , submission or struggle enable the clarification or consolidation of social hierarchies and at the same time avoid lossy physical conflicts within the group (see ritualization in the animal kingdom ). Rites of passage serve to regulate access to higher rank or prestige levels within a social hierarchy. Rituals are subject to constant change . They renew themselves and step into the changed social reality in a changed form. For example, modern social rituals can be recognized in social contexts such as sport , the personality cult , youth culture and advertising .

In the sex ratio rituals play a significant role. Rites of passage ensure that girls and boys enter the world of women and men and often emphasize the differences between the sexes. With the exception of matrilineal societies, there are significantly fewer rituals for girls than for boys. Rituals and ritualizations are discussed in gender research according to their action orientation in the concept of doing gender . Similar to other social and liberation movements, the women's movements of the 19th and 20th centuries developed their own identity-strengthening rituals, for example for actions and women's festivals.

Rituals are communicative actions within a group, whereby the people involved are usually the sender and recipient of the spoken texts ( auto communication ).

Rituals in Psychotherapy

Rituals also play an important role in psychotherapy . They are of great importance in social, partnership and family relationships and promote and stabilize bonds, similarities, harmony, communication and intimacy. With their help, orders can be restored where they no longer exist as a structure. The structure and meaningful power of rituals for the social cohesion of groups should also be harnessed in the therapeutic space. The core of the overall problem is worked out in a symbolic way. Rituals and symbolic actions (e.g. a gesture of reconciliation) support the success of therapy, for example in family therapy, and can exert a bond-strengthening influence in the couple relationship .

Rituals in preschool education

In the complex system of different social interactions in the day nursery or in the kindergarten, rituals have the function of conveying security and security to the young child. It gives the child the feeling of being able to actively shape and control part of everyday educational life. Rituals structure the daily routine in normal everyday life.

Examples can be
  • Table saying or grace before the meal: if an action (beginning of the meal) is linked to a ritual, it makes it easier for children to wait until all children are seated at the table and the table saying can be started
  • various practiced rituals during a children's birthday party support the willingness to participate
  • Brushing teeth, washing hands and other ritualized acts encourage that hygiene measures are not forgotten
  • Educational program elements such as reading aloud, finger games or singing e.g. B. during the circle of chairs or on other specified occasions can also be ritualized and promote a feeling of security

The smaller the children are, the more important this external framework for program design is, since preschool children cannot yet grasp and internalize the meaning of rules.

Rituals in school pedagogy

Increasingly, newer school pedagogy , especially in primary schools , is consciously working with rituals in order to structure lessons and make them more lively. In the past, rituals were common in everyday school life (e.g. getting up when the teacher enters the classroom; morning prayer).

Rituals in politics

Rituals have always played an important role in politics . More recently, the staged rituals of the ideological dictatorships of the 20th century have attracted attention: the Moscow parades on May 1st , the “ Roman salute ” of the Italian fascists , the “flag consecration ” of the Nazis on November 9th, etc. v. a. m. The American political scientist Murray Edelman (1919–2001), in his classic work on political communication research, Politics as a Ritual, emphasized the point of view that modern democracies also use rituals for propaganda purposes. He particularly goes into the “mythizing” use of rituals, i. H. Replacing what is actually necessary or required political action with ritualized (sham) measures and debates that only create the impression that something is happening, although the underlying problems remain unsolved in reality. In this way, voters can be won over or convinced through “merely symbolic” rituals (in the sense of effective public appearances, announcements and sham acts), even if the actual politics does not serve their interests from a purely objective point of view, or at least not to the extent assumed. The strong dependency of political action in democratic systems on the public impact favors this development. The “ritual” in Edelman's definition thus becomes a kind of “end in itself” of politics.

Rituals and mass media

Gregor Goethals takes the view that television is a kind of ritualization. According to Jean Baudrillard , television has taken on the role of “staging” reality and establishing a “simulation” regime. News, in particular, is no longer a true reflection of the events, but rather representations put together and staged according to audience-effective and dramaturgical points of view.

Some journalists and media scholars see not only the ritualization on television, but also an effect of television and the other mass media on everyday life: “When the gong rings at 8 p.m., a program does not begin, but a ritual, because the daily news is an institution , concreted more firmly than the work-free Sunday. ”Such regular repetitions synchronize the lifespan of people (such as dinner after the daily news).

See also


  • Klaus Dirschauer : Rituals - oases in life. With a glossary of festive and everyday rites, Donat Verlag, Bremen 2014, ISBN 978-3-943425-25-3 .
  • Gerd Althoff , Jutta Götzmann , Matthias Puhle , Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger (eds.): Spectacle of power. Rituals in Ancient Europe 800–1800. Catalog for the exhibition from September 21, 2008 to January 5, 2009 in the Kulturhistorisches Museum Magdeburg. Primusverlag, Darmstadt 2008, ISBN 978-3-89678-634-0 ( review ).
  • Claus Ambos, Stephan Hotz, Gerald Schwedler, Stefan Weinfurter (eds.): The world of rituals. From antiquity to today. 2nd, unchanged edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 3-534-18701-6 .
  • Andréa Belliger, David J. Krieger (Ed.): Theories of ritual. An introductory manual . Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1998, ISBN 3-531-13238-5 .
  • Falk Bretschneider, Peer Pasternack (ed.): Academic rituals. Symbolic practice at universities. (= Hochschule Ost. Leipzig contributions to universities and science . 8.3 / 4). Leipzig 1999, ISBN 3-9806319-3-1 .
  • John Marshall Carter, Arnd Krüger (Eds.): Ritual and record: sports records and quantification in pre-modern societies. (= Contributions to the study of world history. Volume 17). Greenwood, Westport, Conn. 1990, ISBN 0-313-25699-3 .
  • Burckhard Dücker: Rituals. Forms - functions - history. An introduction to ritual science . Metzler, Stuttgart et al. 2006, ISBN 3-476-02055-X .
  • Mary Douglas : ritual, taboo and body symbolism. Social anthropological studies in industrial society and tribal culture . S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1974, ISBN 3-10-815601-2 .
  • Marian Füssel : Scholarly culture as symbolic practice. Rank, ritual and conflict at the University of the Early Modern Age . Darmstadt 2006.
  • Arnold van Gennep : Les rites de passage. Nourry, Paris 1909. (German: rites of passage . From the French by Klaus Schomburg. With an afterword by Sylvia Schomburg-Scherff. Campus, Frankfurt am Main 1986, ISBN 3-593-36248-1 ).
  • Gregor Goethals: Ritual and the representation of power in art and mass culture. In: Andréa Belliger, David Krieger (Ed.): Theories of ritual. An introductory manual. Opladen / Wiesbaden 1998.
  • Judith Hangartner, Ueli Hostettler, Anja Sieber Egger, Angelica Wehrli (eds.): Everyday life and ritual: status transitions and ritualizations in social and political fields. Seismo Verlag Social Sciences and Social Issues, Zurich 2012, ISBN 978-3-03777-117-4 .
  • Daniel B. Lee: Ritual and the Social Meaning and Meaninglessness of Religion. In: social world. 56, H. 1, 2005, ISSN  0038-6073 , pp. 5-16.
  • Lukas Radbruch : Rituals and Brain Research . In: Leidfaden . Volume 2, 2013, pp. 10-13.
  • Roy A. Rappaport : Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge et al. 1999, ISBN 0-521-22873-5 .
  • Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger : Rituals. Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2013, ISBN 978-3-593-39956-0 . ( Review in: sehepunkte, 14 (2014), No. 4 )
  • Victor Turner : The ritual. Structure and anti-structure. (= Campus library ). New edition. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-593-37762-4 .
  • Iwar Werlen: Ritual and Language. On the relationship between speaking and acting in rituals . Tubingen 1984.
  • Science rituals. (= Counterwords - booklets for the dispute about knowledge. Booklet 24). Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, 2010.

Web links

Wiktionary: ritual  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ W. Burkert: Homo necans. 1972, pp. 31-39.
  2. The Diary of Mankind. Reinbek 2016, p. 233 f.
  3. ^ This is how the columnist Christine Tauber puts it in the FAZ on January 30, 2008 (on p. 36 in the review of a book by Ingeborg Walter and Roberto Zapperi ).
  4. So Christoph Türcke on September 2, 2012 on Deutschlandfunk in the program Zwischenentöne at 1:55 p.m.
  5. H. Plessner: The stages of the organic and the human. 1928.
  6. K. Books: Work and Rhythm. 1904.
  7. ^ Phenomenology of Religion. de Gruyter, Berlin 1969, p. 209.
  8. Klaus Dirschauer: Rituals - Oases in Life. With a glossary of festive and everyday rites. Donat Verlag, Bremen 2014, p. 9.
  9. Brain & Mind. No. 1–2, 2005. (gehirnundgeist.de)
  10. Andreas Kött: System theory and religion: with a religion typology following Niklas Luhmann. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2003, ISBN 3-8260-2575-X , p. 323.
  11. "The manufacture of homeopathic remedies is subject to the strictest ritual regulations." Colin Goldner : Homeopathy - healing according to the principle of similars. In: sueddeutsche.de . June 8, 2010, accessed December 27, 2014 .
  12. Cäcilia Rentmeister : Women's festivals as an initiation ritual and 7 passages between Life and Death. (cillie-rentmeister.de accessed on August 29, 2010)
  13. Anke Birnbaum: Rituals - their meaning for the couple relationship. In: Online family manual. (Familienhandbuch.de) (accessed on May 15, 2020)
  14. Original title: The Symbolic Uses of Politics. University of Illinois , 1964; German: Politics as ritual: The symbolic function of state institutions and political action. Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1976, ISBN 3-593-32512-8 . (New edition 2005: ISBN 3-593-37751-9 )
  15. ^ Gregor Goethals: Ritual and the representation of power in art and mass culture. In: Andréa Belliger, David Krieger (Ed.): Theories of ritual. An introductory manual. Opladen / Wiesbaden 1998, foreword
  16. ^ Jean Baudrillard: Agony of the Real. Merve, Berlin 1978.
  17. ^ Hermann Meyn: Mass media in Germany. UVK Verlagsgesellschaft, Konstanz 2001, p. 175.
  18. ^ Thomas Günter: Media - Ritual - Religion. 1998, p. 182.