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Ritual Studies Unit

Call for Proposals

The Ritual Studies Unit invites individual papers and full panel proposals from a variety of religious and cultural traditions exploring ritual in various local and transnational contexts. We are interested in sessions that experiment with new formats favoring increased interaction and discussion and we particularly encourage papers/presentations that involve actually doing ritual practices.

Whenever possible, our sessions will be formatted to encourage interaction and group discussion on the basis of concise, pre-circulated papers of no more than five pages submitted for circulation by October 15, 2020. Because at least 30 minutes of every session will be reserved for discussion, presentation times will vary in accordance with the number of speakers in the session.

Memorializing Oppression and Resistance. For a possible triad session with the Religion, Holocaust, and Genocide Unit; Ritual Studies Unit; and Religion, Memory, and History Unit. In 2020 a new memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. is due to be unveiled in Boston Common, located at one end of the "Freedom Trail" established in the 1950s along a line of sites associated with American independence and national ideals. It is not the first memorial added to the trail’s narrative, with the New England Holocaust Memorial erected in 1995 close to Faneuil Hall and the site of the Boston Massacre. With an eye to this evolving memorial landscape, we invite proposals that analyze the memorialization of oppression and resistance, with relevant topics including: the use of religious symbolism and tradition at memorial locations; memorial sites as mediators of sacred and transformative experience; memorial sites as centers of pilgrimage and ritual; and the intersections among historical contestation, politics, and the religious dimensions of the sites.

Embodied Rituals: Mantra, Tantra and Yoga. A pre-arranged co-sponsored “show and tell” session with the Yoga in Theory and Practice Unit. Panelists will present the rituals and practices of mantra, tantra and yoga in both a theoretical and practical way will be followed by two ritual studies respondents. Each panelist will look at performance as a paradigm of ritual action through the demonstration of three particular embodied spiritual traditions.

Daoism and ritual theory. This roundtable will focus on the Daoist concept of true/real (zhen 真). This term frequently appears in Daoist ritual manuals and explications of the efficacy of ritual practices. In this roundtable, we want to explore whether the term zhen may have conceptual relevance beyond the field of Chinese studies. To do so, the roundatble will discuss Poul Andersen’s The Paradox of Being: Truth, Identity and Images in Daoism. We are looking for interested scholars outside of sinology that would like to partake in the roundtable and team up with an expert in Daoist studies to read Poul Andersen’s book. Ideally, these conversations will lead to some fruitful thoughts about how Andersen’s discussion of zhen might offer new insights to each contributor’s own research. If you are interested in becoming part of this roundtable, please send an email to

Rituals of grief and mourning. We invite papers on rituals of grief and mourning in connection with death, miscarriage, personal or collective tragedy, or environmental or social disasters, notably those emphasizing the ritualized expression of emotions.

Rituals of organizations. We invite papers on rituals of organizations, those connected with financial transactions or corporate branding, but also rituals used within organizations broadly defined (not just businesses) for promoting loyalty, facilitating cohesion, celebrating collective identities, etc.

Rituals of crowds and public protests. We are interested in exploring ritual involving crowds or occasioned by public protests of either a spontaneous or planned nature.

Ritual Theory: We invite papers that engage with the “ritual theory canon.” Relevant papers may be purely theoretical or inspired by particular case studies; they may offer new approaches to understanding and utilizing “canonical” ritual theorists or propose new theoretical resources for ritual studies scholarship. We are particularly interested in the theme of sacrifice as a core element of ritual theory, and in pedagogical strategies and experiences as they relate to issues of ritual theory.

Statement of Purpose

This Unit provides a unique venue for the interdisciplinary exploration of ritual — broadly understood to include rites, ceremonies, religious and secular performances, and other ritual processes — in their many and varied contexts, and from a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives.


Steering Committee Members



Review Process

Proposals are anonymous to chairs and steering committee members during review, but visible to chairs prior to final acceptance or rejection

Review Process Comments

Our committee felt this choice would best help us make sessions and participation more diverse.