Intersections: Plate Interviews Ronald L. Grimes


Morning in Varanasi, India. Photo by Rosie via

Morning in Varanasi, India. Photo by Rosie via

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of an ongoing series of interviews about the study of religion and media around the world. The first part appeared in summer 2012.   In his introduction then, Plate wrote:

Over the next several months, I will be interviewing scholars who are investigating the places where religion and media meet. Since The Revealer itself began alongside NYU’s Center for Religion and Media, this seems a logical venue. The hope is that these intersections will provide a forum for a broad range of scholars, but also make scholarly work accessible to a general public interested in such topics. After all… they are inescapable even if we don’t think of them in terms like “religion” or “media.”

By S. Brent Plate

I have been using Ron Grimes’s writings for years now in my classrooms. He has a way of transferring some of the dynamics of ritual into the academic study of ritual, keeping alive much of the energy that existed in the initial performance. (We academics tend to have a bad habit of killing things when we write and talk about them, euthanizing our objects and pinning them to a board.) My students have consistently responded well to the material, and found ways to incorporate Grimes’s ideas into their own projects on film, media, and the arts.

His book “Deeply Into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage (University of California Press, 2000), for example, mixes personal accounts of the ways people have performed rites of “hatching, matching, and dispatching” with theoretical approaches to those rites. Through his detailed explanations, Grimes also makes arguments for why rites of passage matter, not just as an academic discipline, but for our lived lives. These passages are difficult, when fully comprehended, and it takes performance, imagination, and community to work through them. Crucially, they have to be updated, changed, and “re-invented” to continue to have impact.

Grimes is also an astute observer of media, and has challenged too easy assumptions about the connections between “ritual and media.” In works such as “Rite Out of Place: Ritual, Media, and the Arts (Oxford University Press, 2006), he offers a variety of ways to play out the relations inherent in the subtitle. There are “media representations of a rite,” “a magical rite with media device as an icon,” “ritual use of a media device” and “media as model for, or butt of, ritual activity,” to name but a few. These are not all the same activities, and should not be approached with a single perspective that would lump them together. It takes careful thinking and imaginative approaches.

After a career writing about ritual and teaching about it at Wilfrid Laurier in Waterloo, Ontario, Grimes recently officially retired from university duties. Since then he has been involved with projects at Radboud University, Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, and as a fellow at Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music. His publications are extensive, and you can read more about them here. Of note is his forthcoming “The Craft of Ritual Studies” (Oxford University Press).

In the following interview, recorded in the Spring of 2013, we hear some of how the use of media has changed his notions of ritual. And why we should care about ritual in the first place.


Ronald Grimes is Director of Ritual Studies International, co-editor of the Oxford Ritual Studies Series, and author or editor of several books on ritual, including Ritual, Media, and Conflict (Oxford University Press, 2011); Rite Out of Place: Ritual, Media, and the Arts (Oxford University Press, 2006); and Deeply into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage (University of California Press, 2002). Grimes is Professor Emeritus of Religion and Culture at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, where he taught courses on religion and the performing arts, field research in the study of religion, ritual studies, and indigenous religions. Grimes held the Chair of Ritual Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, from 2005-2010. For the academic year 2011-2012, he was Senior Research Scholar and Senior Lecturer at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, where he worked on a project entitled “Ritual and the Improvisational Arts.”

S. Brent Plate is visiting associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College. His recent books include Religion and Film: Cinema and the Re-Creation of the World; and Blasphemy: Art that Offends. With Jolyon Mitchell he co-edited The Religion and Film Reader. He is co-founder and managing editor of Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief.

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