Inclusive rituals?

30 March 2022

Rituals are both inclusive and exclusive. How can we fruitfully think about the inclusivety of rituals?

  • Joanna Wojtkowiak
    Assistent Professor University of Humanistic Studies

Rituals are rigid and at the same time dynamic. Rituals are based on traditions and change over time due to social and political developments. For example, there has been discussion in the Netherlands for some time about the inclusiveness of the national WW2 commemoration on 4 and 5 May. Who should be commemorated? Who should actively participate in the ritual? And how can the commemoration remain relevant for future generations? Much research has been done on these issues and the Netherlands is not the only country where these questions are repeatedly asked.


There is something paradoxical about rituals: they create close-knit communities, which are temporary, closely solidary, and where social statuses are temporarily lifted or can be redefined. the togetherness in ritual seems in contrast to the fact that rituals always exclude. First about solidarity: during a protest or silent march people walk hand in hand who would not easily shake hands under normal circumstances. After a terrorist attack, you see political leaders walking arm in arm through the streets of Paris, standing together for the message “we are not afraid”. This unique ritual communitas, a well-known concept of the anthropologist Victor Turner, is one of the powers of ritual. Participating in something together is something that is remembered afterwards. The closer the communitas, the greater the emotional impact of the ritual. Besides, the more painful the context of the ritual, the greater the chance that communitas can arise.

The ritual exclusivity is also always present. Anyone who does not participate in the silent march does not belong; has “missed” the moment. Those who are not mentioned during a commemoration, consciously and unconsciously, are forgotten. The communitas creates an ideal of homogeneity, while in daily life we may differ greatly from each other, in the ritual we are one.


In society there is rightly debate about ritual inclusivity and exclusivity: rituals change with times and cultures. Sometimes these changes are painful and are accompanied by protest and discussion. Yet they are necessary to make rituals meaningful and to safeguard the meaningfulness of rituals. The protocol of rituals is the structured part of this. Rituals are always prescribed, more or less, and there is room for ritual dynamics and creativity. The question that is essential in my opinion: what is the core of the ritual? Which part of the ritual is non-negotiable? How can this core be translated inclusively into ritual forms?


Read more?

 Grimes, R. L. (2002). Deeply into the bone: Re-inventing rites of passage. University of California Press.

Moyaert, M., & Light, A. (2019). Interreligious Relations and the Negotiation of Ritual Boundaries. In Interreligious Relations and the Negotiation of Ritual Boundaries.

Turner, V. (1969). The ritual process. Aldine Transaction.

Whitehouse, H., & Lanman, J. A. (2014). The ties that bind us: Ritual, fusion, and identification. Current Anthropology, 55(6), 674–695.

Picture on this page: Yena Kwon via Unsplash


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