Tomlinson, “Ritual Textuality”

Tomlinson, Matt. 2014. Ritual Textuality: Pattern and Motion in Performance. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: A classic question in studies of ritual is how ritual performances achieve-or fail to achieve-their effects. In this pathbreaking book, Matt Tomlinson argues that participants condition their own expectations of ritual success by interactively creating distinct textual patterns of sequence, conjunction, contrast, and substitution. Drawing on long-term research in Fiji, the book presents in-depth studies of each of these patterns, taken from a wide range of settings: a fiery, soul-saving Pentecostal crusade; relaxed gatherings at which people drink the narcotic beverage kava; deathbeds at which missionaries eagerly await the signs of good Christians’ “happy deaths”; and the monologic pronouncements of a military-led government determined to make the nation speak in a single voice. In each of these cases, Tomlinson also examines the broad ideologies of motion which frame participants’ ritual actions, such as Pentecostals’ beliefs that effective worship requires ecstatic movement like jumping, dancing, and clapping, and nineteenth-century missionaries’ insistence that the journeys of the soul in the afterlife should follow a new path. By approaching ritual as an act of “entextualization”-in which the flow of discourse is turned into object-like texts-while analyzing the ways people expect words, things, and selves to move in performance, this book presents a new and compelling way to understand the efficacy of ritual action.

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