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Reviewed by:
  • Religious Interaction Ritual: The Microsociology of the Spirit by Scott Draper
  • Christophe Pons

ritual, sociology, Judaism, Islam, Baptism, Catholicism, Buddhism, supernatural, religious experience

scott draper. Religious Interaction Ritual: The Microsociology of the Spirit. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2019. Pp. 216.

Religious Interaction Ritual: The Microsociology of the Spirit is an original contribution to the anthropology of religion, based on a comparison of first-hand selected fieldworks in America with Conservative Jews, Bible Belt Muslims, white Baptists, Black Baptists, Buddhist meditators, and Latino Catholics. It makes the case that rituals across different religious traditions all strive for the same basic achievement: an encounter with what the author calls the "spirit", defined as "a feeling of the supernatural". Draper scrutinizes how diverse ritual strategies help to achieve such a transformative spiritual encounter, and the book seeks to elaborate a fresh sociological theory of this spiritual effervescence. Strong references remain classical: Émile Durkheim first, the most relevant key figure of the book; Max Weber, notably in the conclusion, and Randall Collins, a more recent specialist of Durkheim who helps the author to theorize how "humans experience a power or force when they engage in ecstatic practices and then attribute the force to spirits and to gods" (141).

Draper argues that an Interaction Ritual (IR) theory must be stated at a micro-level examination of "dynamics" and "ingredients" that contribute to socially successful rituals. More precisely, four main outcomes are scrutinized: Emotional Energy (EE), social solidarity, symbolic solidarity, and morality. Emotional Energy is the individual level of collective effervescence. Following R. Collins, who stated that human beings are "EE-seekers" (2004), and E. Goffman's Interaction Ritual theory (1967), the author participated in rituals with six religious organizations located in different cities throughout Texas. In this perspective, the interest of the book is less in the variability of religious traditions than in the comparability of the effectiveness of their rituals, considered as "collective organization of "experiences". It is thus an attempt at observing how the signs of the spirit are collectively constructed, how members interact with each other, how they talk about their moods and feelings, how they deal with moments of low emotional intensity. Through each chapter, the comparative approach focuses on two rituals that differ in ways that help to understand the properties of the chapter's conceptual focus.

The first chapter examines the achievement of effervescence through a comparison of ritual practice in two religious congregations, the Jewish Congregation Shalom and the Islamic Center. The author shows how strategic human choices and shifts are made in order to boost collective effervescence and to gradually increase the emotional intensity which is—as Durkheim said—the very source of humans' understandings of reality. Differences in bodily density, physical contact, and rhythmic entrainment depend on resources, [End Page 131] cultural constraints, and social pressure that explain variations in Interaction Ritual's capacity to encounter the sacred.

The focus of Chapter 2 is on social solidarity, defined as a less ephemeral process than collective ritual effervescence. Social solidarity is seen in shared ways of talking, thinking, acting and representing, since the spirit is stored in symbols (49); it allows more permanent representations and experiences of identity, morality, and truth. Here the author compares two Christian churches that are similar in denomination and doctrine but divergent in the practice of ritual: the all-Black Promised Land Baptist and the white First Baptist. Examining their use of symbols—images and figures—in sermons, he contrasts different types of social solidarity; notably, he discusses the fact that the Black Baptists' worship ritual focused attention on symbols of the collective, whereas the white Baptists' worship focused attention on symbols of the individual (64).

Conscious of the danger of "essentialism" while pursuing the question of collective or individual membership solidarity, Chapter 3 examines the properties of physical copresence with two other religious organizations, the Buddhist Meditation Center and the St. John's Catholic Church. The contrast between them is particularly salient since the members of the Meditation Center are predominantly white, financially stable, highly educated, and frequently attend the center alone. St. John's Church members are instead of a lower social and economic level with a great proportion...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5111
Print ISSN
1556-8547
Pages
pp. 131-133
Launched on MUSE
2021-08-03
Open Access
No
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