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  • The Craft of Ritual Studies by Ronald L. Grimes
  • Helen Phelan (bio)
The Craft of Ritual Studies. By Ronald L. Grimes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013; 432 pp.; illustrations. $115.00 cloth, $ 33.95 paper, e-book available.

Like most good writers, Ronald Grimes takes the playfulness of words seriously. Theories of ritual, he tells us, are constructed from words (183). Sometimes these words are based on actual rites and experiences but often they are built on the words and theories of other writers. Metaphors ground method but, like a bike, we can only ride them so far. As a singer, I am particularly interested in the sounds of words. I am drawn to homophones: words that sound the same but mean different things. Homophones are the stuff of puns, crossword puzzles, and poetry. They are used to fool us, throw us off the scent, or provide a cryptic clue. Homophones remind us that words have accents ("pen" can sound very like "pin" in the Southern States of the US, just as "boy" can sound like "buy" or "by" in parts of Ireland). In music, a homophone is also the same sound produced in two different ways, such as the same note played on different strings of a violin.

The Craft of Ritual Studies is a book anchored by four homophones. Grimes previously alluded to the wordplay between "rite" and "right" in his earlier publication, Rite Out of Place (2006). Like all homophones, these words are not necessarily related etymologically or semantically. Their kinship is sonic. In this publication, we also find reflections related to "write" and "wright." He describes The Craft of Ritual Studies as "a book for the hand" (3): a handbook for scholars and practitioners of ritual studies. It is divided into three parts: method, case, and theory, which "play off each other" (3) in an interactive, nonhierarchical dance.

The first section, "Method," is rooted in an ethnographic approach to studying ritual. While it contains useful introductions to the ritual field, participant observation, and conducting interviews, its core discussion revolves around the place of writing in these processes. Academic, descriptive, narrative, dialogic, argumentative, and interpretive modes of writing are presented as necessary textual approaches for students of ritual engaging with different "communities of discourse: that of the community they study, that of the scholarly community, and increasingly that of educated nonspecialist readers" (68). "Method" encompasses being in the field of ritual, writing and evoking the field, as well as disseminating these experiences through publication. Grimes argues for ritual criticism as an important aspect of ritual interpretation. It involves "the documentation and analysis of negative and positive evaluative claims" (71). In this sense, the "rights" (or "wrongs") of ritual may be critically appraised on, for example, aesthetic, pastoral, ethical, or performative grounds. While this section offers a comprehensive overview of method in ritual studies, the only surprise for me was the relative lack of discussion concerning "the ritual lab." An approach to studying ritual pioneered by Grimes and one of the more important methods for investigating nascent aspects of ritual experience, it was somewhat underplayed in this section in preference of a more ethnographic discussion.

The second section, "Case," revisits the site of Grimes's first ritual fieldwork in 1973: the Santa Fe Fiesta. In an academic world where the pressure of publication often results in shorter and shorter fieldwork-to-publication timelines, it is rare to find a longitudinal revisiting of the field, reminiscent of Anya Peterson Royce's lifelong cultural and ritual engagement with the Zapotec of Juchitan, Mexico. The case study reminds us that ritual is always culturally and historically framed, both in its performance and its interpretation. Grimes also notes that the cultural frame of the scholar changes over time, an aspect less often observed but equally important. Looking specifically at technology, he revisits the field with both notebook and camera. While ritual representation usually involves a written description, sometimes supplemented by photographs, Grimes proposes an approach that "leads with video and follows with writing" [End Page 177] (96). Reminding us that the performative character of ritual renders "capture" an elusive sport, the movement between film and text is proposed as a...


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