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The Dangers of Ritual:
Between Early Medieval Texts and Social Scientific Theory
Philippe Buc

Paperback | 2009 | $31.95 | £26.95 | ISBN: 9780691144429
288 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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Central to current understandings of medieval history is the concept of political ritual, encompassing events from coronations to funerals, entries into cities, civic games, banquets, hunting, acts of submission or commendation, and more. ''Ritual?'' asks Philippe Buc. In The Dangers of Ritual he boldly argues that the concept shouldn't be so central after all. Modern-day scholars, gently seduced by twentieth-century theories of ritual, often misinterpret medieval documents that ostensibly describe such events, in part because they fail to appreciate the intentions behind them.

The book begins with four case studies whose arrangement--backward from texts on tenth-century kingship to fourth-century representations of Christian martyrdom--allows for the line of development to be peeled back layer by layer. It then turns to an analysis of the formation of the intellectual traditions that contemporary historians have employed to interpret medieval documents. Tracing the emergence of the concept of ritual from the Reformation to the mid-twentieth century, Buc highlights the continuities yet also the profound transformations between the early medieval understandings and our own, social-scientific models.

Medieval historians will find this book an indispensable resource for its insights into methodological issues crucial to their discipline. As Buc demonstrates, only rigorous attention to the contexts within which authors worked can allow us to reconstruct from medieval documents how ''rituals'' might have functioned. Ultimately, he argues, too swift an application of contemporary models to highly complex textual artifacts blinds us to the specificities of early medieval European political culture.


"This attempt to bring medievalists into fuller awareness of the social science theories they employ but often have never studied at length is most commendable."--Choice

"An intelligent and curious work, informed throughout by wide learning, acute argumentation, and discerning, sometimes brilliant, readings of medieval texts."--Gabrielle M. Spiegel, American Historical Review


"Everything in this book is erudite, witty, and elegantly argued. There is nothing like The Dangers of Ritual in theme, breadth, detail, or approach. It will be commented on furiously by medieval historians."--Paul Freedman, Yale University

"This is an effective critique of what is at present a far too influential mode of historical interpretation. Buc makes his points supremely well. The book is beautifully constructed. It works, it is new, and it is important."--Rosamond McKitterick, Cambridge University

Table of Contents:

Preface vii
Abbreviations ix
PART I: Late Antique and Early Medieval Narratives 13
CHAPTER ONE: Writing Ottonian Hegemony: Good Rituals and Bad Rituals in Liudprand of Cremona 13
CHAPTER TWO: Ritual Consensus and Ritual Violence: Texts and Events in Ninth-Century Carolingian Political Culture 15
CHAPTER THREE: Rites of Saints and Rites of Kings: Consensus and Transgression in the Works of Gregory of Tours 88
CHAPTER FOUR: The Late Antique Matrix: Martyrdom and Ritual 123
PART II: From Theology to the Social Sciences ca. 1500-ca. 1970 159
CHAPTER FIVE: Rites, Rituals, and Order, ca. 1500-ca. 1800 164
CHAPTER SIX: Medieval History and the Social Sciences, ca. 1800-ca. 1970 203
CHAPTER SEVEN: Epilogue 248
Index 263
The Bibliography for this book can be found in its entirety on the Princeton University Press website

This book has been translated into:

  • French
  • Polish

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File created: 7/11/2017

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