China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Ritual action produces concrete effects. These papers examine the efficacy of particular ritual practices in Chinese religion from the Song dynasty to the present. Covering a range of religious traditions and popular practice these papers all focus on the practical aims of ritual through consideration of what they accomplish without resorting to instrumentalist reductionism. The specific rites discussed in these papers operate on different scales, from the personal (Heller) and family (Sun) to the local (Meulenbeld) and imperial and cosmic (Wilson). Heller and Sun consider ritual practice as productive of selves in relation to moral actions and one’s ancestral family even while the ritual procedures to produce desired effects that they discuss differ in fundamental ways. Heller examines how one acts as subject to make one’s moral being legible through retribution; Sun examines perceptions of the efficacy of ancestral rites in contemporary urban China. Meulenbeld and Wilson both consider ritual as re/productive not merely as secondary literary representations, but as a means to reconstitute ritual space as cosmic embodiments of a larger whole. Meulenbeld focuses on the reproduction of a renown literary tale in offerings to the story’s Immortal Ladies in rural Hunan, whereas Wilson discusses the reproduction of particular spheres of the cosmos–Celestial and Cultural–within the controlled environs of imperial altars and temples. Taken as a whole, these papers explore the multiple ways that the personal, the social, and the cosmic all intersect within Chinese ritual.