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Opposites Attract: the Body and Cognition in a Debate over Baptism

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Analysis of a change in a historical rite of passage, the baptism ceremony in Zurich in the 1860s, shows the relative strengths and weaknesses of recent developments in the field of ritual studies. Those who argue that ritualized action is an embodied negotiation of power relations are helpful in understanding why various groups in society fought either for or against the ritual change. But the weak structural component of these theories and an inadequate model of human action make them unable to account for speech acts in ritual, or for the change in the Zurich ritual. Cognitive theories of ritual are far more successful in explaining the force of specific structural changes. Far from being incompatible, these different approaches to ritual, if based on an adequate model of human agency, are complementary and necessary for an adequate account of the historical ritual change examined.


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