Dancing with masks in the proto-historic near east

Yosef Garfinkel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

3 Scopus citations


General Thoughts on Ritual Behaviour Before going into the details of my particular topic, dancing with masks in the proto-historic Near East, I will make a general comment on the main topic of this volume: the importance of play and ritual in religious studies. Definitions of religion, its origin and development and its connection to society and ecology have been extensively addressed by anthropologists, from the founding fathers of the discipline up to today (see, for example, Tylor 1871; Frazer 1911; Durkheim 1912; Radcliffe-Brown 1922; Evans-Pritchard 1937; Malinowski 1948; Lévi-Strauss 1962; Bloch 1989; Rappaport 1999). It is not my intention here to summarize the different approaches to religion, as this has been done in numerous introductions to anthropology (see, for example, Grimes 1985; Morris 1987; Glazier 1997; Bowie 2000), and archaeologists have also written on the matter quite extensively from their own point of view (see, for example, Renfrew 1985; Marcus & Flannery 1994; Mithen 1996; Verhoeven 2002; Kyriakidis 2007). For our purposes, religion can be defined as the picture that people in a certain culture have in mind about the world, supernatural powers and the role of the individual in that system. As summarized by Rappaport in the introduction to his monumental book Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity: “No society known to anthropology or history is devoid of what reasonable observers would agree is religion. … Given the central place that religious considerations have occupied in the thoughts and actions of men and women in all times and places, and given the amount of energy, blood, time and wealth that have been spent building temples, supporting priests, sacrificing to gods and killing infidels, it is hard to imagine that religion, as bizarre as some of its manifestations may seem, is not in some way indispensable to the species” (1999: 1-2). There are probably hundreds of definitions in scholarly literature for the terms religion, cult and ritual. As a matter of fact, even in a given culture different individuals offer different interpretations of their own common religion. Some aspects of religion may intentionally be left vague, and some religions have ‘secret societies’ in which parts of the religion remain unavailable to large segments of the society.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationRitual, Play and Belief, in Evolution and Early Human Societies
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781316534663
ISBN (Print)9781107143562
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2018.


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