Germanic Languages | Historical Study of German Literature II
G573 | 2845 | Fritz Breithaupt
Anthropology and Literature: The Rise of Ritual in the Long
This course examines how notions of ritual were adapted in Western
thought during the long eighteenth century. In particular, we will
ask how and why “ritual” advanced to a notion not only for the
pejorative description of “primitive” societies, but for the positive
recognition of structures within Western societies. The appreciation
of ritual as a social force is reflected both in active attempts
of ‘ritualization’ (cults of friendship, love, and art) and in the
close attention paid to ritualistic patterns involved in human
practices. In the case of Bildung, for example, we will find a reason
for the celebration of ritual: rituals provide for a rite-of-passage
where obstacles appear that rational progress cannot solve (Novalis).
At the end of the course, we will examine how the notion of sacrifice
receives a revival around 1800 (Schelling, Kierkegaard, etc.).
Questions raised include:
How did notions of cult and ritual become key ethnological concepts
to explain social behavior of (other) civilizations? That is, how
did “cult” and “ritual” become terms for a “cultural” achievement,
instead of mere derogatory notions? To address this question, we will
look at real and fictitious travel accounts (Chateaubriand,
How did these notions of ritual enter the thought of civilization in
general (Millar, Herder, Hegel, etc.)?
What happens to a religious concept when it is used for non-religious
forms of behavior?
Which areas of life are ritualized in the Western world? That is,
where and how do codified progressions of behavior appear and why
(Hölderlin, Novalis, etc.)?
The course will include travel accounts, literary texts, and
documents of intellectual history. Readings will be in German and
English. Students will be asked to start and guide one class
discussion and to write a minimum of 15 pages, divided up in as many
papers as desired. The syllabus is still in progress and I would
welcome input from any interested party (email@example.com).