deutsch  englisch  

Subproject B1

Rites as "Ways of Worldmaking": The Case of Ancient Egypt

Department and Research Field: Egyptology
Subproject B1 has been concluded June 30, 2005.

Subproject Management

Prof. Dr. Jan Assmann


Department of Egyptology
Marstallhof 4
69117 Heidelberg  

Phone: +49 (0) 6221 - 54 25 32
Fax: +49 (0) 6221 - 54 25 51  

Dr. Hubert Roeder (Deputy Head of Subproject)

Department of Egyptology
Marstallhof 4
69117 Heidelberg 

Phone: +49 (0) 6221 - 54 25 32
Fax: +49 (0) 6221 - 54 25 51  


Andrea Kuchareck, cand. phil.

Project Program

Subproject B1 roots in the field of Egyptology and shares one feature with the other archeological projects: it deals with a bygone culture that we cannot observe anymore.


Although Egyptology - when not concerned with matters of Archaeology or Art History - exhibits all the characteristics of a philological science, it does not content itself with philological analysis or edition, but rather strives to broaden the horizon and improve the understanding of texts in their cultural-historic contextualization.


The more obviously texts depend on the conditions of the spoken word (recitations etc) and the performance, the more necessary it becomes to expand the room for interpretation to include cultural-historic contexts.


The interpretative terms of ritual and performance inevitably draw our attention to the conditions under which the texts were recorded, stored as performative guidelines for recitation, and performed.


In particular, we strive to analyze and measure the gap between script and performance.


For our research, we divided the concept of script into three types:

a) prescriptive texts: guidelines for ritual performances

b) performative texts: recitation texts (incantations and liturgical incantation sequences)

c) descriptive texts: descriptions of ritual performances

The same methodical categorization is applied to images.


Based on this notional and methodical fundament, our project focuses on the semantic and pragmatic dimensions of the Egyptian source texts and images from a widely extending temporal perspective.


The source material mainly originates from the collection of pyramid and coffin texts that are to be conveyed with their respective "horizons of cult" (ritual practices, performers, ritual objects, substances used for sacrifice) and corresponding "horizons of meaning" (ascension to heaven, rebirth, sovereignty, divinity, etc).


The characteristics of the finds determine the investigation method. This includes the nature of the performative or recitation texts.


On the one hand, the texts show a strong interpretive relation to actions performed before, during or after the recitation. We call this relation "sacramental interpretation". The semantics that become palpable through the sacramental interpretation can be assigned to different "horizons of meaning", for example to notions combining topic and motive such as "sovereignty" and "rebirth". We will also address the sacramental interpretation of the issue of the "mere action" as a characteristic of rituals, as it was raised by F. Staal.


On the other hand, many recitation texts are detached from manual acts and unfold their meaning exclusively in the speech act as such. In these cases, we can assume that the recitation as such holds the function of an action. This insight leads us to the "performative theory of rituals", as formulated by S.J. Tambiah, reflecting the relation between speech act and (dramatic) performance. It further directs us to the differentiations made by R.A. Rappaport regarding the relation between ritual and performative language.


Our investigations are distributed over two triennial research phases and center on the relationship between father (Osiris) and son (Horus) and on the embodiment of the belief in Osiris on the threshold of developing from a death cult into a temple cult.

Main Topics

B1.1: Egyptian Ritual Semantics - The father-son constellation and its different forms of ritual performance (Dr. H. Roeder)


B1.2: Egyptian Ritual Pragmatics - The rites of Osiris (A. Kucharek, M.A.)