Up to this point in my life, when I wrote papers for school I could usually hold the whole thing in my head as a sort of conceptual template. I'd write that down, then look up actual quotes I had in mind from specific books, so as to prove my points. This works fine for me as long as my papers — or individual chapters — were no more than, say, 25 to 30 pages. I started to struggle a little with holding the entire framework in my head while writing when I had to do my thesis, and later my comps exams. However,  most of the "standard" chapters — the Introduction, Acknowledgements, Preface, etc. — were written individually for various classes ahead of time. Also the largest chapter in the thesis was not quite 40 pages, and had a very clear-cut point throughout… so despite being almost 70 pages total, I could still manage to hold the entire conceptual thing in my head while writing.

For the comps it was even easier, though oddly enough I've been told by other students (in both Women's Spirituality and in a variety of other fields) that comprehensives were incredibly difficult and wrenching to write. They have all my sympathies! For myself, the comps were only one per semester, and the conceptual points I was supposed to be making felt pretty straightforward to me. Both profs really liked my work too, so I guess I did fine there. :)

Now I'm working on my dissertation, though… and it's supposed to be something like five rather closely related chapters. In those I have to interview some folks, explain and develop several related concepts that must be established first, and try to stay under 200 pages. Eep! Oh, plus I suspect my three-member diss committee's going to be quite a bit more stringent than my thesis committee of two. :)

One of the problems I'm having right now is that I'll read a book, realize it's really pertinent to what I'm going to be writing about, and save off the related portions. Then, sometimes months later, I'll come back to it and not quite remember why I felt it was so important. In an effort to address that, I'm going to try doing something similar to what I tried to do for my comps: I'll write up a review of the parts of the book that I thought most important, then post it here on my blog. That way, when I'm later ready to weave the info into my diss, I can come here and re-read exactly what I was thinking at the time. I've noticed that… intellectual liveliness, that excitement is much easier to bring back when I wrote down the why right away. I have, in fact, referred back to my blog frequently for various books for my comps that I particularly admired.

I think also that there are sections of my diss that will review a concept, rather than just a book, with which I should be able to do the same. I'm going to try it out here, with the caveat that these are very rough beginnings on explaining these concepts. This one is about how cultures change via their shared rituals.

[Note to self: this can go in the Lit Review, where I'm discussing cultural drift & patriarchy]

Ordinarily cultures and their associated powerful rituals change slowly and with great reluctance; rapid change usually occurs only during times of turmoil. Intriguingly, it appears the same category of gathering can potentially perform both (a) the standard re-creative function, where the group primarily renews communal bonds and reaffirms collective representations; or (b) a re-creative function from which change and something new emerges.[1] Pickering describes this type of intentional gathering, where the requisite collective effervescence occurs, as an "effervescent assembly."[2]

It was while searching for that form of "collective action… [which] arouses the sensation of sacredness"[3] that Durkheim first came up with the notion of collective effervescence as the source of religious vitality, and possibly of religion itself. His belief is that rituals promoting collective effervescence involve the suspension of social norms, allowing new concepts and beliefs to emerge in both religion and society: "There are some periods in history when, under the influence of some great collective shock, social interactions have become much more frequent and active…. That general effervescence results which is characteristic of revolutions or creative epochs."[4] Thus should a symbol or a ritual become exhausted — should they become culturally irrelevant, or no longer generate the desired emotional effervescence for their participants — then they will either be reconstituted into newer and more pertinent versions, or discarded entirely for something fresh which answers the culture's updated needs. When new rituals are created in such a fashion they are most often successful due to the participants sharing a high degree of focused emotion and desire (which grants them all heightened emotional energy and collective effervescence), a sense of their identities being either affirmed or changed within their group solidarity, and a shared respect for the group's symbols.[5]

R. Collins refers to such creations as "natural rituals" which "build up mutual focus and emotional entrainment without formally stereotyped procedures," and notes that it is in such situations that new cultural symbols are created.[6] He loosely defines symbols as both "particularized memories as well as generalized ideas or emblems,"[7] and notes that collective cultural symbols are created, shared, and invested with emotional power through interactional rituals, both formal and informal. These rituals engender, through their intensity, collective effervescence or emotional energy, moral solidarity, and a sense of community connection for their participants.[8] Further, the emotional, spiritual, and physical pleasure of the collective effervescence attached to these symbols is a significant part of the unconscious inspiration to create and/or enact social ceremonies or relationships using the symbols.[9] This can be easily noted in the joy on the faces of those participating in, say, a graduation ceremony or a wedding: both rituals publicly announce a change in social status through expected, structured actions and recitations as well as heavily symbolic and significant clothing. In an oversimplified nutshell, performing these powerful, shared cultural rituals makes us feel good about ourselves and our communities.

[1] Arthur Buehler, "The Twenty-first Century Study of Collective Effervescence: Expanding the Context of Fieldwork," Fieldwork in Religion vol 7.1 (2012): 70-97.

[2] William S. F. Pickering, Durkheim's Sociology of Religion: Themes & Theories (London: Routledge Kegan & Paul, 1984), 385.

[3] Durkheim, Elementary Forms, 245.

[4] Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Joseph Ward Swain (New York: The Free Press, 1965), 241.

[5] R. Collins, 51.

[6] R. Collins, 50.

[7] R. Collins, 119.

[8] Randall Collins, Interactional Ritual Chains (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 155-156.

[9] R. Collins, 119.

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