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A Description, Analysis, and Critique of Religious Ritual


“A Description, Analysis, and Critique of Religious Ritual”

Paper & Presentation



To observe, analyze, and critique a central ritual in a religious tradition (other than your own) with a view toward understanding how the religion takes shape in the actual “performance” of the rite.  You will want to refer to Ronald Grimes “Mapping Ritual” and “Modes of Ritual” PDF’s in the Canvas Module.





  1. 12-15 page paper (3000-3500 words, APA format), see instructions below.
  2. 8-10 minute speech (video tape yourself and upload to Canvas).
  3. Formal outline and speaking outline.
  4. Power point slide show (12-15 slides), detailing a summary of your findings.


This 12-15 page essay, and 8-10 minute oral presentation, will describe, analyze, and critique your visit to a religious institution in South Florida (including a thorough description, detailed analysis, and critique). You must attend a religious ritual of a tradition to which you do not belong and have no prior experience with.  Be sure to contact the institution first (phone or via the web) to verify its location and worship schedule.  You should also inquire if special dress is required.  (A general rule of thumb for dress is to err on the conservative side, and be sure to cover your shoulders, belly button and knees).  IMPORTANT: Do not take any notes while you attend; rather, wait until you leave and then find a quiet place to write down answers to the questions below.

The ritual you choose to attend can be a daily, weekly, monthly or annual ceremony (but it must be a “main” event, not an informal/occasional one).  When you attend if anyone asks who you are, you should introduce yourself as a student at Lynn University.  Oftentimes someone will come up to you, assuming that you are a potential convert; you may wish to gently inform them that you are simply a student of religion broadening your horizons in religious tolerance and understanding.


On a separate title page be sure to list:

  • your name
  • name of the site visited
  • religion of the site (including branch, denomination or sect if applicable)
  • address and contact information (phone, email) for the site
  • date and time of your visit
  • names of any staff or officials at the site with whom you communicated




There are 3 parts to this project, each with its own set of questions to address as follows:





Key Question to ask: “What is going on here?”


[NB: This segment should be answered strictly on the basis of what you saw, not on the basis of previous experience, theoretical knowledge or questioning of the participants]


The purpose of this section is to give a complete description of what you observe.


Give a narrative account from beginning to end of the sequence of events which you observe, including a list of the various parts of the ritual (eg. Opening Prayer, Song, etc.).   Be as thorough as possible (without spending more than 1000 words on this section).


Use Ronald Grimes’ article, “Mapping the Field of Ritual” (found in Canvas) to describe each of the following:


  • Ritual Space
  • Ritual Objects
  • Ritual Time
  • Ritual Sound
  • Ritual Language
  • Ritual Identity
  • Ritual Action








 Key Question to ask:  “What does it mean?”


[NB: These questions should only be reviewed and answered once the first part (writing down your Observation) has been completed]


  1. Where, if anywhere, is the sense of the “sacred” manifested? How is it marked-off and distinguished from the “profane”?  How is it acknowledged?  (Verbally?  Gesture?  Ornamentation?  Other ways?)


  1. Briefly, what images/concepts of, God are fostered and conveyed by the rite? How does this occur or get accomplished?



  1. What specific Beliefs and Values are reinforced by the rite? How does this process occur? In other words, how is it accomplished? What beliefs and values are censored-out or negated by the rite?


  1. Where and how, if at all, is the sense of “liminality” (time out of time) apparent? How was it created?



  1. How open is the rite, in your brief observation of it, to the introduction of possible new ways of ritualizing? In other words, is it fixed/fossilized in its form or is it open to new forms?  How is this evident?







Key Question to ask: “Does it work?” “How might it be improved?”



[NB: To be done only after part I and II are completed]


  1. Does this rite, both in its form and content, adequately express the essence of this religion?  (a brief explanation of what is the essence of the religion may be necessary)


  1. Do any parts of this ritual “subvert” or “undermine” the sense of the divine/God or core valued?


  1. Is the rite genuine (having a sense of being rooted in history) while also gracious (accounting for the here and now)?  In other words, has the religion/ritual adapted to the current geographic and historical context of 21st century North America?


  1. Does this ritual produce/engender personal and social transformation?  Is there an efficacy to the ritual?  How might this be improved?


  1. Finally, does it produce “communitas” (a la Victor Turner)?  Cf. Driver 152-165.  How might it be improved?



Last Updated on February 11, 2018

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