Reflecting Traditional Practice in Modern Context

It is often presumed that traditional rituals are not reflected upon by their practitioners, at least where laypeople are concerned. Within modern contexts, however, in so far as such contexts are conditioned by social change also affecting ritual practice, this presumption does not always hold true. Laypeople do observe their ritual practice and thus do not necessarily fall in line with Staal’s concept of rituals representing »pure activity, without meaning or goal« (1979:9). Carrying out ritual practices according to prescribed rules and legitimized by tradition in their observation does not rule out the possibility of laypeople attributing specific relevance to them. The thematic outline of the Lichtenberg-Kolleg Göttingen states that the »religious field« displays »particularly sensitive indicators of societal and cultural mentalities and their changes«. To what extent can this be applied especially to the assessment of religious ritual by religious laypeople finding themselves in the context of modernity, processes of secularization and societal change? How, from the perspective of ritual theory, can this be grasped by understanding ritual practice in Luhmann’s sense as Kommunikationsvermeidungskommunikation and by taking communication about ritual practice as an indicator of a specific negotiation process, involving the assertion of traditional practice in a modern environment? Elaboration on, and comparison of, data on death and valediction rituals in the Parsee community in Bombay vis-à-vis practices of Protestant and Roman-Catholic church members in Germany and Switzerland promises to give rise to an empirical foundation for discussion of the questions posed above, specifically in the focus of »multiple modernities«.