Media and Rituals

11 08 2008
Summer school of the long-term collaborative research project on ritual dynamics at the South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg – Exchange of views on the subject of rituals between internationally renowned scholars and film-makers
Rituals permeate and structure our everyday lives, whatever society we live in. No one can evade their effects. In many branches of the humanities, research on rituals has centred around texts (e.g. of a liturgical nature). But texts cannot communicate the experiences of participants in rituals. They cannot tell us how it smells in a Hindu temple or how it feels to dance around a fire in the darkness of the Australian night. But sounds, smells and movements are an essential part of rituals. Ritual agents and scholars make use of various media in an attempt to acquaint cultural outsiders with experiences of this kind. Recent research on rituals investigates both religious and secular rituals, modern and traditional alike. These range from ecstatic or life-cycle rituals like initiation rites in Nepal or Australia to religious rituals in the virtual world of the internet. In so doing, it emphasises the aesthetic and medial dimensions of rituals and the potential that research itself is afforded by new media technologies such as digitisation.

Over the course of two weeks (28 July – 8 August 2008) internationally renowned scholars and film-makers assembled at the summer school “Moving Images & Media Rituals” at the South Asia Institute in Heidelberg to discuss their experiences with film, video, internet and other visual media as vehicles for the study of rituals.

Among the researchers invited to the summer school were Marcus Banks (Oxford), Howard Morphy (Canberra), Sarah Pink (Loughborough), Erik de Maaker (Leiden), Manfred Krüger (Göttingen) and Ron Grimes (Ontario). Members of the Heidelberg long-term collaborative research project also presented their ongoing work resulting from cooperation with documentary film-makers (Gutschow and Michaels with Bau and Hemmleb), their own film-theoretical activities (Hüsken) and participatory observation in virtual worlds like Second Life (Heidbrink and Radde). Thus the participants at the summer school gained insights into the latest theories (most of them interdisciplinary), methods and practice. They took part in online rituals, practised film analysis and attended discussions on various topics.

The participants came from all over Europe (e.g. the Netherlands, Romania, Norway, Switzerland, the UK), most of them students of, or researchers on subjects like religious studies, ethnology, media studies, education or Indology.

The summer school was organised by members of the long-term collaborative research project on “Ritual Dynamics” at the University of Heidelberg, which has been funded by the German Research Foundation since 2002.

Further information

Alexandra Heidle, M.A.
Sonderforschungsbereich 619 Ritualdynamik
University of Heidelberg

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Dr. Michael Schwarz
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Irene Thewalt

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