Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2013
Rituals are a subject of interest for many disciplines. History, and especially medieval studies, cannot claim to play a leading part in the investigation of rituals. Yet despite - or perhaps because of - the many disciplines conducting research into ritual, there is no common understanding of what exactly constitutes the essence of ritual.
Any attempt to define ritual by bringing together the various opinions of scholars in behavioral, ethnic, religious, social-psychological, or other studies on the constitutive elements of ritual is bound to fail. Therefore, all that will be done here is to identify some of the commonly accepted building blocks for such a definition: We talk about rituals when actions, or rather chains of actions, of a complex nature are repeated by actors in certain circumstances in the same or similar ways, and, if this happens deliberately, with the conscious goal of familiarity. In the minds of both actors and spectators, an ideal type of ritual exists that takes on a material form that is easily recognized in its various concrete manifestations. Actors and spectators act in the consciousness of being bound to a given scheme, which does not, however, prevent the ritual from having the desired effect.