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Ritual and Archaic States$
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Joanne M.A. Murphy

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062785

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062785.001.0001

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The Variety of Ritual Experience in Premodern States

The Variety of Ritual Experience in Premodern States

(p.23) 2 The Variety of Ritual Experience in Premodern States
Ritual and Archaic States

Richard Blanton

University Press of Florida

Any turn to collective action in polity-building will create a fertile ground for argumentative discourses about human nature as well as about new cultural production that aims to transform entrenched cultural designs. This chapter addresses how ritual may play a role in such discourses. While no classifying system will properly capture all the nuance and complexity of ritual practice, to add substance to my comparative exercise I follow Stanley Tambiah’s sense that some rituals can be understood as “constitutive” acts, serving to reaffirm that which is bound by convention and not subject to conscious evaluation. For example, Balinese political rituals serve to reaffirm the central, unquestioned, and timeless fact of Balinese kingship (legitimacy of rule)—the sanctified status of corporeal god-kings. By contrast, I found that in the more collective polities, ritual, as Tambiah explains, can more often be understood to “regulate a practical or technical activity … without actually constituting it.” Rather than to “astonish thousands of peasants” and thereby reproduce the central structural property of a government, as in Bali, the civic rituals of the more collective polities allow for a rational evaluation of the polities’ operative principles and their theories of human nature.

Keywords:   constitutive acts, ritual practice, collective polities, legitimacy of rule, Stanley Tambiah, Bali, polity, polity-building

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