Endings in Ritual Studies was published in January of 2020, just in time to hit the Covid wall. I couldn’t get an author’s copy of my own book across the Canadian-US border. Endings is a bookend to Beginnings in Ritual Studies. Now in its 3rd edition, Beginnings wears a cover featuring a boulder splashed with water from Lake Huron. But what does an ending look like? A tombstone? Ashes scattered on a desert? An old truck abandoned in a field?
I joked that The Craft of Ritual Studies was my tombstone book, the last one I would write on ritual. As you know, the dead don’t always stay dead. Endings is post-tombstone, a collection of uncollected essays. Gathering them was like rifling through a sock drawer, tracking down lonely singles lacking a mate.
Some of the essays in Endings were unpublished. A few were written jointly with another author. Others were first presented as academic papers or published in scholarly journals, out-of-print collections, or books with very limited circulation. My aim is collect and revise these essays, making them easy to find in a single volume.
I raid my own works, rewriting grant applications into conference papers, that are revised to become articles, which, revised again, become chapters in books. For me writing is re-writing, so if something in Endings sounds strangely like something you read elsewhere, don’t be surprised. Revising is infinite. Until the day you die, a voice your brain says, “Surely you can do better,” until the body rusts, the engine croaks, and the wheels fall off.
Endings contains two kinds of writing, one that is more academic, ethnographic, or theoretical; the other is more literary or visual. There is overlap. The visual and literary works are also academic, and the academic works often connect to videos, deploy visual metaphors, or use literary tropes.
Although academics have to write to eat, not all say they have writing careers. They leave that to “writers,” literary and journalistic. I began to think of mine as an academic writing career after a Cornell University Press editor sent back Symbol and Conquest riddled with editor’s marks and comments. Since then I have struggled to learn the art of scholarly writing.
In the last decade, I’ve begun to cross over from academic writing into literary nonfiction. The essays in the last section of Endings are creative nonfiction; I’ve jumped the chasm between academic and literary writing. Even so, creative nonfiction works reek of ritual studies formation.
Old dogs being what they are, this transformation has been difficult. Susan Scott, my wife, was for seven years Lead Nonfiction Editor for The New Quarterly, a Canadian literary journal. Without her keen eye and ear I couldn’t have made the transition.
My first piece of creative nonfiction, “The Backsides of White Souls,” suffered through twenty-one drafts and eighteen rejections before it was published. “Disarming Boys” was declined twenty times on Submittable, the site to which aspiring writers do what you would expect: submit.
The writing process, like life itself, is partly about skill, partly about persistence. When my body persists, warped like a wrecked and rusted truck (in the photo above), making its last stand at the foot of Pueblo Peak, I can only hope that some imaginative stranger will grant me a virtual life with a new photo or story about exiting ritually.
Table of Contents
I. Ecology, Spirituality, and Politics
1 Improvising Ritual
2 Ritual and Nature
3 Global Spirituality and Ritual
II. Selves and Others
4 Desecration: An Interreligious Controversy
5 This May Be a Feud, But It Is Not a War
6 Negotiating Religious Life Histories
7 The Presentation of Self
8 Ritual and Autobiography
9 Stepping into a Pit of Snakes
III. Practices and Practicalities
10 Emerging Ritual
11 Reinventing Ritual
12 Liturgical Supinity, Liturgical Erectitude
IV. Theories and Performances
13 Religion, Ritual, and Performance
14 The Critical Turn in Ritual Studies
15 How Is a Ritual Like a Dutch Bike?
V. Spaces and Objects
16 Sacred Objects in Museum Spaces
17 The Life History a Mask
18 The Ritualization of Moving and Learning
19 Sacred Space and the Southwest
20 The Lady and the Egg
21 Processions and Portals
VI. Film and Festivity
22 Bridging Rituals: A Daughter’s Song
23 Ritual in Prague’s Velvet Carnival
24 Shooting Embalms
VII. Creative Nonfiction
25 Why the “White Man” Can’t Dance
26 The Backsides of White Souls
27 Sleeping with the Author
28 Disarming Boys
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