Fritz Staal on meaning of ritual

George Thompson thompson at JLC.NET
Wed Nov 11 04:09:20 UTC 1998

Frits Staal's theory of ritual has received a great deal of attention,
though mot primarily by Vedicists. I have not seen all of the "substantial"
criticism [e.g., Harry Falk's Rezension in OLZ, which I'm sure would be of
interest]. But here are a few references that may be of use:

Hans Penner [a specialist in ritual studies, but no Vedicist] has written a
negative [and not very successful critique] "Language, Ritual and Meaning"
in *Numen* 32 [1985]. I know that it is admired, though.

You will find extensive discussion of Staal's theory scattered throughout
Catherine Bell's very theoretical book *Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice*
[Oxford Univ. Press, 1992]. Likewise, a non-Vedicist.

Allan Grapard, Burton Mack, and Ivan Strenski [all non-Vedicists] led a
symposium [entitled, as I recall, "Symposium: Ritual as Such", on Staal's
book *Rules Without Meaning* in 1990 or 1991, the proceedings of which were
published in *Religion* 21 [1991], along with a response by Staal. This is
recommended as the most detailed response that I know of.

Finally, you will find a a fairly elaborate response [25 pages] by a
Vedicist [myself] entitled "On Mantras and Frits Staal" in *India and
Beyond: Aspects of Literature, Meaning, Ritual and Thought: Essays in
Honour of Frits Staal* [edited by Dick van der Meij, published jointly by
Kegan Paul Intl. & the IIAS, 1997]. This article, you might guess, is a
friendly critique, but a critique nevertheless, by a former student of
Professor Staal.

There is incidental reference to Staal's theory, here and there, among
Vedicists [cf. especially J.C. Heesterman, passim], but I know of no
book-length, or otherwise substantial, treatment of Staal's theory in

Hope this helps.

George Thompson

>I'm looking for substantial criticism on Fritz Staal's theory on the
>meaning of rituals. By substantial I mean elaborate articles or books.
>Axel Michaels

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