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Body in Ritual

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Religious rituals come in a seemingly inexhaustible variety of forms, compiled from diverse components and attributes. Yet, there are clear patterns using body symbolism, bodily signals, and manipulations of participants` bodies that are so far largely unchartered by the scientific study of religion. Prevalent approaches to the study of religion often prioritise religious thought, perpetuating the natural bias toward a dualistic understanding of the body as a possession, rather than an integral part of the mind as well as bias for protestant Christianities.

This volume offers a clear, integrative, and systematic research program of the body in religious ritual employing a multilayer model of ritual communication through bodily practices. The model consists of three levels: individual, social, and symbolic, each representing a different level of complexity of communication. While evaluating theoretical frameworks for each level, the volume also addresses the interconnectedness of the levels and suggest ways to look for continuities between the levels.

The volume focuses on one concept widely communicated in religious rituals: power asymmetry. Diverse modalities of communicating power relations between superhuman and human agents are shown on all three levels. On the individual level, the focus is on the use of specific ritual postures and other acts that constrain, or prescribe, what happens to the body during a ritual. Although such practices can serve as a communication device in interpersonal contact, the volume emphasizes their effect on the individual, on both biochemical and psychological levels. The social level is explored mainly through the connection between verticality and the perception of dominance. Visual information of size and position provides an evolutionary stable type of cue of dominance or strategic benefit for the larger or higher positioned individual in potential confrontation. Power and dominance are further communicated on the symbolic level with embodied metaphors that refer to evolved sensitivity to size and position.

The volume also offers and illustrates a research program that could produce opportunities for interdisciplinary bridging between the strictly naturalistic perspective and socio-cultural approaches. It argues that the topic of body and physicality in religious rituals can (and should) serve as a natural opportunity for systematic interdisciplinary collaboration. It showcases this approach on the bodily position of kneeling, which is used cross-culturally in many different ritual settings.

Published: Mar 1, 2026


Section Chapter Authors
Chapter 1
Introduction Eva Kundtová Klocová
Chapter 2
Body, Mind, and Religion Eva Kundtová Klocová
Chapter 3
Ritual as Communication Eva Kundtová Klocová
Chapter 4
Power Asymmetry Eva Kundtová Klocová
Chapter 5
Kneeling Eva Kundtová Klocová
Chapter 6
Conclusion Eva Kundtová Klocová