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Admission requirements

This course is open to electives, dependent on the availability of places. Students of Religious Studies and students of the minor Religion in a Changing World have priority.


This course aims to provide students with a critical understanding of key theoretical and methological issues in the study of ritual. It will cover questions of: the relation between ritual and myth; the function or purpose of ritual; the role of power and authority; the categorisation of rituals; and the form taken by ritual procedures, among other issues.
The course consists of two parts. The first will provide an overview of various theories and approaches to ritual, while in the second students will give presentations in which they apply the knowledge acquired in the first part to rituals of their choice. Topics chosen in previous years include: initiation rituals in the cults of Mithras; Vedic fire sacrifice; the celebration of Ashura in Iran and Lebanon; All Saints and All Souls' Day in Mexico; the Buddha's tooth festival in Sri Lanka; the North Korean cult of personality; Yoruba ancestor festivals; the Muslim daily prayer; and the Barong dance in Bali.

Course objectives

After completing this course, students will be able to:

  • Recognise different disciplinary themes and approaches in the study of rituals;

  • Apply this knowledge by means of a thorough literature review;

  • Collect, select and critically assess information for quality and reliability;

  • Formulate a good research question based on a literature review;

  • Present appropriate evidence to answer a research question;

  • Report orally and in writing on their findings to an audience of specialists and non-specialists;

  • Give and receive constructive feedback to improve their own work and that of fellow students.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • 4 assignments on required readings 30%;

  • Oral presentation 20%;

  • Final paper 50%.

The final mark for the course is determined through a weighted average of the grades given for these assignments.

If the average grade for the four short assignments is unsatisfactory, a replacement writing assignment will be given. Students producing unsatisfactory work for their final paper will be asked to submit a new piece on a different topic for the resit.

Assignments will be graded via Brightspace.

Reading list

This course does not employ a textbook, and all required reading will be made available online on a week-by-week basis. Students looking for a good overview of theoretical approaches to ritual should seek out Catherine Bell’s Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (1997).


This has to be filled out by the key-user of the department.
Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

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Dr C. J. Pearce