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Research Program

The Collaborative Research Center SFB 619 "Ritual Dynamics"

The collaborative research center SFB 619 "Ritual Dynamics" at Heidelberg University is the world's largest research association exclusively investigating rituals as well as their change and dynamics. Already during its founding phase, the UNESCO incorporated the project "Ritual Dynamics" into the official contributions to the United Nations Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations 2001.


Currently more than 90 scientists from the fields of Anglistics, Egyptology, Assyriology, South Asian Anthropology, Ancient, Medieval and Modern History, Islamic Studies, Jewish Studies, Classical and Modern Indology, East Asian Art History, Medical Psychology, Musicology, Religious Studies as well as Theology are involved in 21 subprojects.


The collaborative research center SFB 619 conducts fundamental research in terms of the cross-cultural construction of models and theories. To establish scientific methods and theories, experiences from those who practice the rituals are integrated into the SFB 619's research projects. We provide explanatory models for the socio-cultural meaning of ritual actions, for example in their function of legitimating power and creating and preserving identity, as well as in their role for the life-cycle, their therapeutic part with crises and their function for maintaining order.


Cultural-Geographic Distribution

The research program's spectrum comprises the following cultures and countries:

Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, ancient Greece and Rome, late-medieval and modern Europe, India, Nepal, Syria, Turkey.


Promoting Young Researchers

The research project aims to bring together and connect mainly younger scientists. The program is intended to increasingly open up for highly qualified post-graduates to offer them a project-based continuing education with a rejuvenating effect on research. Regular symposia, summer schools, colloquia and international conferences create and practice a high degree of interdisciplinarity that particularly motivates young scientists to search for solutions outside their familiar academic field.


Text and Context

The governing question about the dynamics of ritual actions implies diachronic and intercultural perspectives. Therefore, SFB 619 combines historic disciplines with disciplines of social science, where active traditional rituals can be observed in situ.


Cultural Comparison

Thanks to the strong cross-linking of projects focused on Asian and European cultures, it is the first time that an in-depth comparison of different ritual types is conducted, including:

purification rituals, initiation and wedding rituals, healing rituals, power and leadership rituals, court ceremonial rituals, temple and celebration rituals, trance rituals, ritualizations and re-ritualizations of cultural transfer, dance, adolescent drug consumption and internet presentation. The cultural invariance of ritual behavior can be researched best in processes of ritual transfer from one culture, religion or region to another.


Ritual Dynamics

So far, rituals were assumed to be stereotype, rigid forms of behavior whose genesis is hard to prove. The project "Ritual Dynamics", however, is consecrated to the research on the development and vanishing of ritual practices, the reasons for the invention of rituals and the motives for ritual criticism. One of the initial hypotheses states that rituals represent a sui generis type of action. The unifying goal of our research initiative is to create the basis for a ritual science that centers on the exact determination of the conditions, modes and functions of ritual actions.