A comparative historical study on the importance of rituals from a sociological perspective. Social Science.

A comparative historical study on the importance of rituals from a sociological perspective. social science

Expertise key words:

  • Medieval Middle East (Mamluk Era in Egypt and Syria)
  • Comparative History
  • Sociology
  • Anthropology



Ritual Politics in Fifteenth-Century Egypt and Syria:

(815/1412-872/1467 ((or 922/1517?)))

 Legitimising, Structuring and Protecting the Order

An Interdisciplinary (or sociological) Approach to the Significance of Ritual in Mamluk Socio-Political Praxis


Table of Contents


  • General Introduction:

The Mamlūk Sultanate as a ‘Theater State’

* Theater state (intr. Geertz) Hier = performative dimension of state and public interactivity in what Erving Goffman regards as the dramaturgical aspect of power relations.


Research questions (still unclear how to formulate my research questions):

I just know I want to research:


  • The use of rituals in the Mamlūk sultanate
  • Compare with other eras and regions
  • How and why rituals change
  • An understanding of what Sanders calls the “ritual lingua franca” of Mamluk politics, to decode symbolic performances.
  • This could lead to fresh understandings of Mamluk politics and society, of political hierarchy, of patterns of power?


       Central question: Role, importance and meaning of Mamlūk ritual in politics Mamlūk socio-political practice, cultural expression from a ritual perspective; omnipresence of ritual, integral part of any socio-political fabric; quintessential feature of the highly ritualized nature of the Mamluk sultanate;

  • Still lack of research from this perspective (GAP) → overview previous studies in field of Mamlūk Studies
  • Role of: (time – space – actors (Sultan – ‘amīrs – caliph – ‘aʿyān – authors! – general public)
  • sources
  • summary content chapters


      –    Interpretation of meaning of rituals: Authors and their role (live in the     same cultural mindset)


   –   Continuity and change in ritual practice, working with 15th century  chronicles and administrative manuals

  Unusual or new rituals, or innovations in old rituals may be described more elaborately, manipulation of rituals, abolishing rituals.

– Origin, evolution of rituals





  • Theoretical Framework




  1. State of the Art
  • different fields of study !


  • Meaningful Actions = texts, codes, narratives, values (Ricoeur)
  • Symbolic Action (Burke (1957); Geertz; Alexander)
  • Theatre (Turner)
  • Social action/practice as cultural performance (Jeffrey alexander!!!)
  • Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger – Rituale !!!
  • Gerd Althoff: die Macht der Rituale !!!


  1. b) Defining ‘Ritual’
  • ritual-like activities (Catherine Bell)
  • building blocks of ritual (Gerd Althoff)
  • = a number of paradigmatic concepts (Kreinath-Snoek-Stausberg)

such as their having to do with embodiment, emotions, language, transmission,  and also their being complex,  dynamic, (presumably)  efficacious,  and framed.

  • Definition Jeffrey Alexander:

“Episodes of repeated and simplified cultural communication, in which the direct partners to a social interaction, and those observing it, share a mutual belief in the descriptive and prescriptive validity of the communication’s symbolic contents and accept the authenticity of one another’s intentions. It is because of this shared understanding of intention and content, and in the intrinsic validity of the interaction, that rituals have their effect and affect.”

  –        Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger – Rituale !!!

  • Gerd Althoff: die Macht der Rituale !!!
  1. c) Defining ‘Ritual Politics’ an ‘Political Rituals’

– Definition political rituals (Catherine Bell)

– “political rituals comprise those ceremonial practices that specifically construct, display and promote the power of political institutions or the political interests of distinct constituencies and subgroups.”

– Ritual Politics = the use of political rituals

  • Ritual politics = Social Performance = Script (Jeffrey Alexander)

–  Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger – Rituale !!!

–  Gerd Althoff: die Macht der Rituale !!!

  • Script
  • Actors, audience (sometimes participate)
  • Languages (speech acts; ritual lingua franca (Sanders)
  • Material things = means of symbolic production
  • Mise-en-scène (actors’ movements in time and space) (see also Grimes)
  • Social Power: often invisible: resources, capacities
  • Audience

(Ritual Politics = more effective than coercive force in securing people’s acceptance to a particular order (=coercive force more time consuming, less effective and arouses more resistance))


  • Methodology ???


Epistemological choice:


Analysis / Interpretation of Sources (consideration motives of authors)

Source → Inference → Justified Belief

 Discussion Sources & Disourse

(The state of the sources sets the limits to the study. Taking into account the limits of the material I work with and that authors have their own political agenda, the challenge is to make shift with what is available.
The chronicles used in the MP3 database (and others), and biographical dictionaries are the main sources I work with).

In addition to the Khitat and administrative manuals dating from the same period, like al-Saḥmāwī, al-Zahiri’s Zubdat Kashf, in order to compare the ideal prescriptive world of the administrative manuals with the common practice as described in the chronicles an BD covering the 15th century.)

(comparing with 14th century)

 voice (“who” tells the story)?; discourses = representations of reality

  • insight in authors and their motives
  • intertextuality
  • Konrad Hirschler: Medieval Arabic historiography : authors as actors!!!

 3 MAIN PARTS/BULK 5a) 5b) 5c)

 Analysis of Ritual Praxis

 Legitimisation of the Rule

  1. Introduction
  • Every society “legitimate order”, engaging every constituency of society
  • Legitimacy = general agreement on signs and symbols

                   = authority + belief (mutual relations rule + ruled)

  • appealing to socio-political and religious precedents
  • when successful signifiers become what they signify

→ symbols = referents (performance perceived as real, as having an ontological status, not as a script)

 b) The sultan as the material embodiment of the political order

      b1. Inauguration: Form of Self-Legitimation

  • primus inter pares
  • traditional authority; elevation
  • belief through ritual legitimate
  • towards general public: petitions

    (Weber!!!, Barker)

 b2. sultanic regalia: iconicity of the sultanate

  • Objects serving as iconic representations to help them dramatize and make vivid the invisible motives they are trying to represent
  • Importance of simplification. critical to performative force!
  1. c) Religion: an effective tool for establishing obedience, which may lead ultimately to legitimacy.

Mamluks no longer ‘Guardians of Islam’ (still holy cities)

→ ‘religious’ rituals: ʿĪd, Maḥmal, Recitation Bukhārī, …

Maḥmal, Recitation Bukhārī, Islamic,…

Role Caliph diminishes, other examples, 14th century??

  1. public Sessions

 = Legitimacy vis-à-vis civil society

Linda Darling the Circle of Justice

“state” subject to a law

Justice = peace, protection, good organization, and a functional infrastructure vs. resources, revenue the rulers needed in order to perform their functions


  1. e) construction projects/ architecture


  • Theory Levebvre: The Production of space


“production” humans create the space in which they make their lives; it is a  project shaped by interests of classes, experts, the grassroots, and other contending forces. “Space” is produced and reproduced through human intentions.

– workd of Behrens-Abouseif



  • External Legitimation


  • Foreign relations: embassies
  • vragen en antwooden nog te onderzoeken…



  • B) Structuring the Socio-Political  Order


  • The configuration of the Socio-Political Hierarchy: The Mamlūk dynamic constitution (Edward Muir)


To what extent as mentioned in the sources?


     1a. Introduction: Public Sphere as a Social Stage

         * Levebvre


-ritual positioning of the various manṣab holders defined their precedence and place in the political hierarchy


      1b. Processions/ mawkib

   non-violent, non-repressive form of domination

type of theatrical performance notably apt to be used in politics


     1c. Formal meetings: khidma / majlis


                 1d. Military Ceremonies (peaceful)


1e. Perfuming the Nilometer/Cutting the Canal




2)  Status and Hierarchy


2a. Agency-Structure?


–     Relationship Manṣab (office holding) vs Individual?

  • who holds power: individual or institutional office holder?
  • concept of institutions?
  • To what extent were institutions strictly defined or how did individuals shape mansabs?

 Manṣab as ritual favour?

  • Was physical position liable to squabbles over hierarchy and to dispute?

2b. Appointments

  • analyzing sources, link with 2a.

               2c. Material Culture:

  1. Attire

     = “Standardized expressive equipment” (Goffman 1956)

 gift giving

– sultanate = gift culture

– = constitutive of the social order

– forming bonds

– not just material items, but services, hospitality, and other intangibles

– dense networks of exchanges and the resulting bonds   ultimately constitute the social order.

– gifts in general are seen less as voluntary acts than as part of the  obligation involved in being part of the culture.

– receipt of a gift is usually understood as a putting into debt of the recipient by the  donor.

– honor / reward

– (Andrew Cowell)

– Behrens-Abouseif: Practising Diplomacy in the Mamluk Sultanate: Gifts and Material Culture in the Medieval Islamic World!!!




  1. Protecting the Order


– Rebellion/ Obedience

– Punishment: Ritual tool for social control

basic part of the rituals that uphold any social structure

enhancing group solidarity

channeling and resolving social conflict

exercising power (Foucault).

– Military Rituals (Violent)

– prisoners of war/ punishment

– intimidation

– symbolic capturing of a city or capital


  • General Conclusion and further questions



Get a 15 % discount on an order above $ 100
Use the following coupon code :
error: Content is protected !!