Society and Identity
Ritual is often taken as something traditional or cultural, which in an Asian context is typically imagined as non-Western, while modernity is seen as coming from Europe or the West. This panel seeks to cross the binaries and borders implied in this pairing by looking at the close relationships among various forms of ritual and various forms modernity. How do processes of industrialization, technological change, and urbanization, as well as ideologies of modernization, development and national progress affect ritual practice? How do alternative forms of modernity developed within Asia both reflect ritual traditions and create new ritual contexts? How do rituals that seemingly emanate from Europe evolve when faced with East Asian modernities? How does modernity itself become ritualized?
What counts as ritual is itself a contested question. Seligmann, Weller, Puett and Simon argue that ritual creates an “as if” world in which participants act according to a particular set of rules “as if the world were a certain way.” Taking inspiration from this speculative interpretation of ritual, scholars of ritual also argue that games, play and other ways of creating “as if” scenarios are similar phenomena. Ritual involves the use of rules to limit or constrain action, as Katherine Bell notes, reproducing social hierarchies and power relationships. It also prevents the sort of indecision that can occur when too many possibilities seem to exist, suggesting that rituals are not merely oppressive but often useful, despite their power effects. From digital games to funerary practices, this panel explores how rituals of all sorts travel and circulate across East Asia reinforcing extant geographic and temporal visions of modernity, and occasionally positing the possibility of new ones.