2010When Judaism became boring: The McCauley-Lawson model applied to Judaism.
Invited talk given at: Workshop on 'Judaism and Emotion', October 7, 2010, University of Bern, Switzerland. Slides.




In 1990, Thomas Lawson and Robert McCauley introduced a model of the structure of religious rituals, strongly motivated by contemporaneous generative linguistics, and distinguishing two types of rituals. A decade later, this model became the basis of their theory of the dynamics of ritual systems. Only if the two ritual types are in balance, will a ritual system be stable. Namely, 'special agent rituals' are associated with a higher level of emotional arousal than 'special patient/special instrument rituals', and the two must complement each other to yield a transmittable system. If 'special agent rituals' are lacking, then a 'tedium effect' is predicted to emerge, paving the way to 'imagistic' splinter group outbursts.

The present talk will summarize the McCauley-Lawson model. After pointing to some details that need reformulation in the light of Judaism, we shall ask how much of Jewish history can be analyzed in this framework. I shall conclude that the cognitive perspective has the potential to complement the more traditional (historical, socio- economic) perspectives in Jewish studies.