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Ritual Theory and Performance


Tom Splain, S.J.
1500 Ralston Avenue
Belmont, CA 94002
[email protected]

Mission Statement

The Ritual Theory and Performance Group first met in New Orleans in 1976 and since then has devoted itself to interdisciplinary approaches to ritual and liturgy. Over the years, the areas studied have included cultural anthropology, the sociology of religion, ritual studies, semiotics, linguistics, communications and media.


2014 Academy Meeting Agenda

The Ritual Theory and Performance Seminar began in 1976 and has developed over the years to include a wide range of approaches to ritual. In November, we will be launching a website (tentative address: that includes much of our work and invites a larger participation in the discussions. In Orlando, we want to look at the website, critique it and plan for our future as a seminar and the future of the website.

Somewhat in the same vein, we would also like to visit the development of understandings of “inculturation/contextualization” and explore what our work can contribute to the topic.

2013 Academy Meeting Agenda

Marcia McFee designed and led the worship for the United Methodist General Conference this year. She will report on the design process and the context into which the liturgy was lived out, opening a discussion about the intersection of ritual and context/conflict.

Remi Lepage will make a presentation entitled, “Grace and Ritual Performance; the Contribution of Louis-Marie Chauvet.” He would like to show how Chauvet’ s sacramental theology gives us some insights to focus on ritual performance in a way that remains inside of a Christian theology of grace.

We can then move onto more informal discussions of music, storytelling, and a proposed website for our seminar group.

2012 Academy Meeting Agenda

DAVID HOGUE – Reviewing the Contribution of Neuroscience to Our Understanding of Ritual: From the Function of Memory to Mirror Neurons

TOM SPLAIN – Albuquerque Revisited: The Classic Debate Between Ronald Grimes and Roy Rappaport on the Meaning of Ritual at Our Seminar Meeting in 1993


2010 Academy Meeting Agenda

  1. Susan Smith has offered to make a formal presentation of her forthcoming book Principles for Generating Ritualizations. In the book, she explores the relationship and balance between the descriptive and proscriptive dynamics of good ritual.
  2. Brigitte Scion will be joining us this year to informally share her work exploring the memorials to the Holocaust, The Desaparecidos in Argentina and the Killing Fields of Cambodia. Dr. Scion’s background is in performance theory and she emphasizes architecture.
  3. Time permitting, we also have an agenda from Baltimore wherein we could pick up on Marcia McFee’s presentation applying the kinesiology categories of “Thrusters,” “Swingers,” “Shapers,” and “Hangers” to liturgy.

2009 Academy Meeting Agenda

We will begin our deliberations in Baltimore by looking at the premise that images of the divine are also kinesthetically experienced in the form of rhythmic patterns and thus play a large role in our expectations and experience of ritual.  Moving on, we hope to explore connections social neuroscience and performance theory.

2008 Academy Meeting Agenda

For the last four years, the Ritual Theory and Performance Seminar has been working on three fronts; what brain science can tell us about ritual, current explorations into performance theory and quantitative survey work in conjunction with the University of Nijmegen.

In Savannah, we will begin our deliberations exploring the feasibility of establishing a seminar website that could expand our discussions. We also want to map out our work for the next year or two.

On Saturday, we have a joint session with the Liturgy and Performing Arts seminar to discuss Richard McCall’s book “Do This: Liturgy as Performance.” Any remaining time will be spent on David Hay’s recent publication, “Something There: The Biology of the Human Spirit.”

Number of participants: 15-18