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Making Sense Through the Senses. Exploring the Aesthetics of Ritual

About the project

  • Every social group, every action performed by individuals, and every phenomenon known to humans has a form, a dimension of materialization,and a meaning, an element of sense. The resent project seeks to study this interconnection.
  • We do so by approaching sense-making through the senses; through a focus on mediation, the means and processes through which the world presents itself to people as individuals and members of social groups. The fundamental premise underlying the project is that as humans we do not have direct access to reality; experience is always mediated in one form or another, through physical environment, objects, technologies, practices, or other means.
  • Our hypothesis is that the form of sensuous mediation structures the undestanding of what is real; While the physical brain, obviously, is separated from the outside world by the cranium, there is no inherent reason to assume that all the relevant computational machinery of human thought is separated in the same way (Clark and Chalmers 1998, Day 2004, Clark 2011). A central term in this respect is the concept of 'scaffolding'; the conception that it is in the nature of the human mind to make use of external resources for its own computation.


  • Through a focus on ritual in four different parts of the world, Polynesia, Sri Lanka, Zanzibar and South America, the primary objective of the project is to explore and compare the link between forms of mediation and specific imageries of social order and manifestations of reality. A particular focus is on the the interface between composition and structure of the rituals themselves and the perceptions and values held by the societies surrounding the ritual arenas.
  • The secondary objective is to document through active use of film the way objects and ritual paraphernalia are (re-)defined and handled when incorporated in ritual use.


Dissemination plans include:

  • One edited volume, Oxford Ritual series
  • One special issue, Journal of Material Religion.
  • One film-based cross-regional exhibition on ritual aesthetics at Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo.


  • Changing Magic and Magical Change: A Study of materialization, imagination and transformation in Zanzibar
  • Rituals on the move: A study of the ritual presentation and cultural evaluation of  koloa (‘Tongan wealth’ ), kai (‘Tongan food’) and kava (‘Tongan kava’), among Tongan overseas migrants.
  • Religious tradition and ethnic Identity: A study of the Pattini Rituals in Panama, Sri Lanka


Internal research funding from Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo.

Published Dec. 11, 2012 6:18 PM - Last modified Sep. 28, 2018 10:00 AM