Recent interpretation of rituals supplements Ãmile Durkheim's views that rituals are formalized and symbolic ritesâcontrolled and repeated behavior in the presence of the sacredâwhich enact society's separation of the sacred and the profane. In the work of Edmund Leach and Mary Douglas, rituals constitute a system of symbolic actions that communicate values about society. The Manchester School of Manchester University's Department of Social Anthropology championed a processual view that interprets rituals as a symbolic mechanism in which form, content, meaning, and a dynamic process guides, confirms, and reorders individual as well social experience and practices. Victor Turner argued that in Ndembu rituals and rites of passage, symbols are employed to stabilize individuals and society, create new social locations, and anticipate transformation by establishing a communitas, or fellowship. Jean Comaroff has argued that rituals reenact the historical and social practices of a community.
Rituals give content and meaning to religious life. Life crisis and developmental rituals are transformative and stabilizing. Life cycle rituals such as funerals honor the dead and prepare them for transition into ancestors; ceremonies honoring dead chiefs take on cosmic proportions. The Wimbum people often suspend farm work for the duration of the celebrations. Rituals of affliction are performed to rebuff a spirit that causes illness, misfortune, failure, and barrenness. Certain afflictions may be a call for the afflicted to become a healer or assume an important ritual office. In such a case, the afflicted receives ritual treatment from a specialist and is initiated into the practice. Rituals of rebellion offer opportunities for transformation and the creation of alternative social alliances. Religious rituals also involve propitiation of the ancestors and of gods who have the power to remove afflictions.