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Transforming Reality with Ritual: Children's Understanding of Ritual Grammar and Causality

Jacobs, Melanie Gail (2005) Transforming Reality with Ritual: Children's Understanding of Ritual Grammar and Causality. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Ritual action, aimed at transforming social and material reality, is found in all cultures (Bell, 1997). Ritual is used to create marriages or systems of authority in the social domain and to eradicate illness or ensure good crops in the material domains. Two theoretical strands explain the universal structure of ritual: That it is marked by a unique universal grammar with intuitive, internal logic (Rappaport, 1999) and that it rests on intuitive inferences about causal power (Boyer, 2001; Lawson & McCauley, 2002). Ritual grammar serves to instantiate social realities. Ritual causality follows the logic of agents, actions, and patients that are marked for special powers. This study with children (5- to 6-years and 8- to 9-years) experimentally examined how participants of different ages understand ritual for transforming social and material reality. Interviews with children were comprised of three tasks to examine children's recognition, their causal understanding of ritual grammar, and what connections they made to their prior experience. Children's explanations were examined. A parent rating of children's prior experience was also included. An adult sample provided a comparison. In general, ritual grammar understanding emerged in the age period studied and was unrelated to parent rating of children's prior experience. Some ritual grammar elements were understood earlier than others. There were few differences between the social and material conditions; children (and adults) seemed to have a general understanding of ritual grammar regardless of domain. Children (and adults) showed little evidence of connections to their prior experience, suggesting a weak explicit framework for ritual grammar. Results are discussed in terms of the possible cognitive underpinnings of ritual grammar understanding. Children's understanding of ritual is grounded in socio-cultural, cognitive, and developmental theory and considered to be an important part of children's developing participation in cultural construction.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Jacobs, Melanie Gailjacobsm@pitt.eduJACOBSM
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairJohnson, Carljohnson@pitt.eduJOHNSON
Committee MemberBrown, Keithlkb@pitt.eduLKB
Committee MemberCrowley, Kevincrowleyk@pitt.eduCROWLEYK
Committee MemberStrauss, Markstrauss@pitt.eduSTRAUSS
Committee MemberHummel,
Date: 10 May 2005
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 17 March 2005
Approval Date: 10 May 2005
Submission Date: 6 May 2005
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Psychology in Education
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: cognitive psychology; cultural participation; developmental psychology; ritual; social cognition
Other ID:, etd-05062005-154010
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:43
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:43


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