Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Sunday, May 20, 2018

what rituals are and do

I want to isolate what I believe to be the key passage in this piece by Sigal Samuel on Ritual Design Lab. Here it is:

Finally, an endeavor like Ritual Design Lab has a paradox at its heart. If I contact the Ritual Design Hotline and the team solves my problem by creating a ritual for me, I am implicitly buying into the notion that I’m not capable of creating one myself. By outsourcing ritual design, I am, to use Steinlauf’s idiom, objectifying rather than subjectifying it; I’m reinscribing the old notion that we have to look to outside experts for such things. Only now, instead of turning to a rabbi or a priest or a guru, I’m turning to a designer.

Ozenc does not necessarily see this as a problem. In the Stanford classes he co-taught with Hagan, he ran two sessions. In the first, each student designed a ritual for herself. In the second, students paired up: One, the designer, was tasked with crafting a ritual for the other, the client. “The second version is more effective because you might not be seeing the opportunities in your life — maybe someone else can see better,” Ozenc told me. “There’s value in it if someone you trust comes in, and you give that other person permission to design a ritual for you.”

That, of course, is what religious people have been doing for millennia; it’s just that the “other person” might have lived in the year 218, not 2018.

Even though at this point in the piece Samuel has already quoted a rabbi who questions the legitimacy of separating ritual from religion, she returns here to a framing of the whole endeavor that is simply a mismatch with the character of ritual. (It is of course the same framing that drives Ritual Design Lab.) The assumptions of this framing are:

  • rituals are designed;
  • I can either design my own rituals or let “experts” do it for me;
  • rituals are “solutions” to “problems”;
  • rituals implicitly endorse what a founder of Ritual Design Lab says explicitly: “the whole premise of design is human-centeredness. It can help people shape their spirituality based on their needs. Institutionalized religions somehow forget this — that at the center of any religion should be the person.”

But all of those notions may be questioned. One might argue, rather, that:

  • rituals are not designed but rather emerge from the life of a community;
  • there can be, therefore, no “experts” in ritual-making;
  • rituals do not solve problems but are rather a mode of communal expression;
  • the central focus of any genuine ritual is not the human being or even the community but rather the personage, god, or power that the ritual seeks to propitiate, plead with, or worship.

2 comments:

  • After reading the article, I agree with your concluding paragraph's points. The concept monetizes the rituals often seen with sports figures, writers, artists, et.al. and their "lucky hat" or whatever. The Stanford Design School might want to set up a for-profit corporation, perhaps " Incurvatus In Se, LLC", or since one of the Kellys (Ideate, Inc.) was a pioneer of the SDS, perhaps, "Idolate,LLC". My best advice for the secularists enamored of hiring a "ritual consultant" is to save their coin by simply (and often, or is that redundant for such) to look in their mirror and admire themselves (or sentence them to security screening at Heathrow).

  • I'm currently reading a book about 'Habitual New Media', and maybe because of that I can't help but see the connections between habits and rituals, especially when combined with design. Would your arguments at the bottom of this post represent the nuance between rituals and habits?

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