The interdisciplinary project "Ritual Dynamics. Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Socio-Cultural Processes" at the University of Heidelberg is to be one of the official contributions to the United Nations International Year, under the general heading "Dialogue among Civilizations". Project spokesman is Prof. Dr. Dietrich Harth of the Department of Germanic Studies. Departments and institutes involved in the study are those of Ancient and Medieval History, Archaeology, Assyriology, Education Studies, Egyptology, Ethnology, Indology, Islamic Studies, Jewish Studies, Literary Studies, Political Science, Religious Studies and Theology.
For some time now, religious and secular rites and rituals have been in the forefront of interest in religious studies and anthropology. The special feature of the "Ritual Dynamics" project is its focus on (a) the origins of rituals and their changes over time, and (b) the way various ritual practices intervene in the processes governing group and identity formation at the social and cultural levels.
A universal feature in the history of civilisations
One of the central assumptions underlying the project is that in terms of the history of civilisations the widespread and extremely rich historical and geographical indications we have about ritual activity all over the world not only allow but actively endorse the conclusion that we are dealing here with a genuine universal. Formalisation, the use of various different media and the appeal to something transcendent an idol, deity or ideal are constitutive features of ritual action in a universally valid sense.
As such, ritual action is easily identified as a prominent phenomenon in present-day social systems as well. Justified as it may be to adopt a sceptical attitude towards such tendencies because of the potential for abuse they imply, it is equally true that the further development of intercultural dialogue is itself to a large degree a question of ritualising appropriate forms of communication conducive to the active promotion of mutual tolerance.
Project not limited to the modern age
The project is not restricted to the modern age. It encompasses the great civilisations of the past (Egypt, Assyria, India, Greece...) and extends forward in time to such phenomena as the ritualised commemoration of the Holocaust and the popular religious practices of contemporary segregation movements in Asia, most of them "invented" rituals designed to mediate between tradition and social change.
Please address any inquiries to:
Prof. Dr. Dietrich Harth
Neuere Deutsche Literatur und Allgemeine Literaturwissenschaft
phone: 06221-543207 or 712426
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317