Distinguished Annual Saler Lecture in Religious Studies, Brandeis University


Monday, Nov. 16, 2009 at 12 noon, at Brandeis University (location, TBA)

Robert Weller
Department of Anthropology
Boston University

Ritual and the Rhythms of Ambiguity


How do we deal with the ambiguities inherent to all categories?
Anthropologists have long argued that we taboo the ambiguous areas or
that we allow them to be explored only if they are surrounded by
powerful boundaries. There are, however, other solutions that lead to a
greater comfort with ambiguity and an ability to negotiate across
boundaries—something that is crucial for pluralism and for empathy.
This talk examines ritual as one such solution. Ritual always crosses
boundaries: between deity and humanity, adulthood and childhood, or
even just between the ritual itself and non-ritual activity. The talk
focuses on the way ritual rhythms and meter create a shared sense of
time and possibility as part of a dialectic between order and ambiguity.
Examples are drawn primarily from contemporary Chinese ethnography.