Introduction to ritual studies

Ritual was an obvious choice for a theory course, at Columbia, since many students are interested in performance art. This course, which emphasized using theory to interpret data and, conversely, leveraging data to refine theory, is designed around two scaffolded assignments: the first entails describing and analyzing a ritual in an ethnographic film; the second involves presenting to the class a ritual that the student had observed, as analyzed with one of the theories we had considered in class. The class also looked at rituals not generally classified as religious (those surrounding capital punishment, e.g.) in order to push students to query what exactly religion is.