Ritual as a social practice in present-day society / Rituál ako sociálna praktika v súčasnej spoločnosti

This panel deals with the theoretical and methodological background of the study of rituals in present-day ethnology and summarises the current state of knowledge of Slovak ethnology about holidays in the 21st century.
We will seek to answer the questions on the importance of holidays for the today's society and on their functions not only from the point of view of those celebrating holidays, but also from the perspective of those producing and preserving holidays. Main topics: 1) Holiday in the content of the public discourse (press, internet, etc.); the mechanisms of the dissemination of information about older as well as emerging holidays; the content, origin and ways of celebrating holidays; 2) The social and cultural contexts of the acceptation of ritualised behaviour, political rituals during state holidays, ritual behaviour of the participants to religious pilgrimages or transition rituals. 

Chaired by

Katarína Popelková

Key-note speaker

Barna, Gábor: Rites and Feasts. Possible questions and answers on the present-day functions of rites and feasts (Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, University of Szeged, Hungary) 

Why is it, in our ever more rationally planned and organised age, that there are still events accompanied by rites in our individual and community lives? What is it that makes rites important in our individual and community lives? How is it – even if they are not changing – that their number is not declining but increasing? What can this role be? Is it to make occasions more festive? What makes an occasion festive? Does celebrating mean to live with rites and use rites? How does the use of rites or rituals make an occasion more festive? What is the role of the feast and celebration at the level and in the life of the individual and the group (family, settlement, state, nation)? Why is it that we can feel our times to be an age of festivals (=special feasts)? What does this increase mean?
These questions already point to the possible direction for answers, namely that rites can be the vehicles of important elements of content that make them necessary in all ages and all social systems: this content characteristic at the same time also emphasises the social role and function of rites. At this point the world of rites and feasts is connected to the levels of public life, power and politics. Rites and feasts are in constant movement and change.
Rites have become a subject attracting multidisciplinary interest with many new approaches (investigation of cultural memory, media and communication research, theatre research, leisure time research, migration research, material culture research, economic studies, identity, politology and many others). Among the functions of rites it is mainly their expressive, social and renewal role that enables the expression of emotions and convictions and thereby the creation of individual and community identities. Here the rite may be connected with the feast that breaks away from the routine and frame of everyday life and offers the possibility of practising it.
Research on feasts is the result of work in the second half of the 20th century. The English expressions ‘holiday’ and ‘feast’ reflect the dual nature of the concept: a ‘holy day’, a time of freedom, time that is not controlled, as well as the excesses that accompany such events. The feast is a special time. Christianity is a religion of memory, every aspect recalls certain events of the past /the passion story. It lifts the person celebrating it out of the everyday, weekday routine, and makes them part of this special time.
Today we are witnessing the desacralisation, fragmentation and individualisation of rites and feasts. Their religious/Christian nature is pushed into the background and new desacralised feasts have appeared and are taking shape. The religious and secular feasts are becoming separated. Since the turn of the 19th to 20th century national and state days have come to increasingly predominate in the order of feasts and the dominance of civil and ideological celebration can be observed.
The religious, state and national days have been shaping and dividing communities since the 19th century. However the mobility and differentiation appearing at all levels of society also open up a new possibility for integration along which new feasts can appear and together with the global economy and trade, the local economy and society can also take part in shaping them, creating what are now a whole series of local festivals. The social acceptance of the new order of feasts reflects the acceptance of the social order. Scholarship has also become a force shaping identity, celebrating itself and its institutions with the rites of scientific conferences, just as it is doing now in the frame of an international conference.
In this way the feast with its rites can shape religious, national, political, regional and local, group and individual identities. The speakers in our panel are analysing some of these questions in case studies. This paper has drawn not only on the Anglo-Saxon literature and the research findings of German workshops but also on the results of research carried out in Hungary and Central Europe in the past two decades.


Panel speakers

Vladimír Bahna: A cult in the making(Institute of Ethnology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia)

This paper covers the development of a Marian pilgrimage site called Živčák, located in the north-west of Slovakia. Since its inception (an alleged apparition of the virgin Mary), in the late 50ties, till today this place of religious devotion witnessed several changes of its official status, social function, forms of religiosity and the actual appearance of the place. A transition of the church attitude from an official ban, through ignorance, to active support and full time management, was followed by changes in the forms of religiosity related to this site. The initial spontaneous forms of folk Christianity were expelled from the main ritual practice and replaced by the official catholic liturgy. The author argues that this development is in line with theoretical assumptions about the social dynamics of two divergent modes of religiosity - imagistic and doctrinal mode.

Věra Frolcová: The Catholic Feast of Corpus Christi in the 21st century as a base and topic of historical ethnology in an inter-disciplinary medievalistic project. On studies of conservative intentions of Eucharistic processions within the actual context
(The Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, v.v.i., Department in Brno, Czech Republic) 

The contribution is based on methodical and empiric experience gained in an inter-disciplinary team project called Visual Culture within the Context of Eucharistic devotion in the late medieval Czech lands. The contribution shall introduce the assignment and possibilities of ethnological heuristics, methodology and interpretation of Christian feasts in a new inter-disciplinary concept. From the methodological point of view, the contribution presents the connection between synchronic and diachronic analysis in ethnology studies. It researches the issues of genesis and importance of conservative elements in religious feasts connected with processions as expressions of communication which were formed by traditions of church and lay culture.

Katarína Popelková: Holidays – the Mirror of Society. An Ethnological Perspective of the Research on Holidays in the 21st Century
(Institute of Ethnology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia)

The research team of the Institute of Ethnology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava has dealt with the research of holidays since 2011. The members of the team perceive holidays as interruption of the daily routine accompanied by normative acts and by the attributed symbolic meaning. They understand holidays as a framework for the realisation of rituals, as a communication opportunity and as a medium for the dissemination of socially relevant contents. The team maps holidays from the point of view of the scope of their function and the ways people experience them. Holidays are described and analysed in the current social contexts at different social levels and with gnoseological objectives focusing on the society which finds reflection in holidays like in a mirror. Through holidays it is possible to observe links between three areas of interest: politics (represented by the state, political parties and churches), economy (represented by business and advertising) and citizens (at the level of communities, groups or individuals). The aim of this paper is to present the findings of an analysis of enacted and formalised political and religious holidays, as well as selected recurrent exceptional occasions linked to certain groups, locations, regions, etc.

Teresa Smolińska: Transformation of the Carolling Tradition in the Contemporary Polish Culture
(University Opole, Faculty of Philology, Department of Culture and Folklore Studies, Istitute of the Polish Language and Culture Studies, Opole, Poland) 

How to move from liturgy and folk religiosity towards the ceremonial rite, spectacle and street theatre? What are the various ideas and the limits? The author emphasizes two phenomena related to Epiphany: missionary carollers who inspired by priests raise money for the missions, and the Cortege of the Three Kings that has become a new form of a ‘mystery play’ pointing to the theatralisation of liturgy in city streets. There is a shift in tradition: city dwellers have replaced villagers. Although ongoing secularisation is also evident in Poland there are visible inconsistencies in the world view and the relativisation of attitudes towards experiencing the sacrum. Many Poles develop folk religiosity during ‘festive occasions’ and the two emphasized phenomena are a case in point.
The author calls for observation and analysis of this type of new cultural offer centred around the Church in Poland. She asks about the dimension of folk piety in the modern consumer society.

Dorota Świtała-Trybek: Union feasts – beer taverns in the mining environment
(University Opole, Faculty of Philology, Department of Culture and Folklore Studies, Istitute of the Polish Language and Culture Studies, Opole, Poland)

Feasting used to be and today still is the crowning of almost every celebration. In the mining environment, feasting is related to a professional holiday falling on December 4, on St. Barbara’s Day, when the patron saint of miners is remembered. Over the centuries, the tradition of organizing miners’ meetings over beer on this occasion has been solidified. On the basis of archival materials as well as materials collected during field research in mining communities, the author discusses the specificity of beer taverns and indicates the processes of their transformation. In the last two decades, we have observed the gradual disappearance of certain components of mining taverns, which is directly related to the difficult situation of the mining industry (mainly in terms of coal) in Poland.

Juraj Zajonc: “We Don´t Have to Do Anything, Just to Die and Attend the 1st May Parade”: the Aspects of the Acceptation of Holidays Today
(Institute of Ethnology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia) 

The aim of this paper is to summarise, on the basis of the recent research on current holidays, the reasons by which Slovak citizens justify their refusal, tolerance, acceptation or celebration of certain occasions as holidays. The analysis which served as a basis for the findings focused on holidays which were chosen according to their perception by Slovak inhabitants as citizens and members of gender, age, ethnic, confessional and other groups, such as state, political, church or new holidays. The analysis has also brought findings about the differences in celebrating the same holiday by different groups. This fact represents the basis for reflections about possible shifts in the interpretation of the meanings of holidays with regard to the current needs of a particular group which accepts holidays in a certain form.