Charles Explorer logo

Ritual as Cinema, Cinema as Ritual: Points of View from Visual Anthropology

Class at Faculty of Arts |



This will be a block seminar. In the first week of the semester, there will be an introductory class. During the course of the semester students will send in written homework in the form of abstracts from texts they will read. In the first week of the exam period, there will be class daily from 17:25 – 21:00, focused on screenings and discussions, as well as some readings as preparation. Toward the end of the exam period, there will be one afternoon, where all students will have to attend and present what they will have come up with. This course will mainly be theoretical, due to institutional constraints, students will not be making ethnographic films. However, if you choose to do a short ethnographic film instead of making a presentation it will count as course fulfillment.

Some knowledge in contemporary critical theory is of advantage but not necessary. In case of excessive enrollment, preference will be given to religious studies students.  

Schedule:   19. 2. Introductory Meeting

March – April/May: Homework  

Class: 21. 5., 17:25 – 20:50 WORD/SIGN/IMAGE 22. 5., 17:25 – 20:50 RITUALIZATION (BEYOND MEANING) 23. 5., 17:25 – 20:50 TIME AND OPENNESS 24. 5., 17:25 – 20:50 SPECULATIVE COSMOLOGIES AND RITUALS 25. 5., 17:25 – 22:00 POP CULTURE (XL)  


Part 1:

Grimshaw, Anna. 2001. The Ethnographer's Eye. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

MacDougall, David. 2006. The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography, and the Senses. Princeton – Oxford: Princeton University Press. (except Part II: Images of Childhood)

Pink, Sarah. 2009. Doing Sensory Ethnography. Los Angeles: Sage Publishing.  

Part 2:

Taylor, Lucien. 1996. “Iconophobia.” Transition 69: 64–88.

Mitchell, W.J.T. 2005. “There Are No Visual Media.” Journal of Visual Culture 4.2: 257–266.

Hollywood, Amy. 2002. “Performativity, citationality, ritualization.” History of Religions, 42.2: 93–115.

Kapferer, Bruce. 2004. “Ritual Dynamics and Virtual Practice: Beyond Representation and Meaning.” Social Analysis 48: 35–54.

Pandian, Anand. 2011. “Reel Time: Ethnography and the Historical Ontology of the Cinematic Image.” Screen 52.2: 193–214.

Heilman, Jeremy. 2015. “Mock-Doc Pedagogy and the Ethnographic Unconscious – Ben Rivers' Slow Action.” Spectator 35.1: 16–24.

Marks, Laura. 2011. “Can Cinema Slow the Flow of Blood?” Senses & Society 6.3: 350–357.

Wilkinson, Maryn. 2018. “On the Depths of Surface: Strategies of Surface Aesthetics in The Bling Ring, Spring Breakers and Drive.” Film-Philosophy 22.2: 222–239.  


Rouch, Jean. 1955. Les maîtres fous. France, 29 min.

Trinh, T. Min-ha. 1983. Reassemblage. United States, 40 min.

Carasco, Raymonde. 1979. Tarahumaras '78. France, 30 min.

Towira, Pimpaka. 2012. แม่, Thailand, 15 min.

Tsai, Ming-Liang. 2015. 无无眠. Taiwan – Hong Kong, 34 min.

Wang, Shao-Gang. 2017. 惡水淨土. Taiwan, 7 min.

Weerasethakul, Apichatpong. 2007. Luminous People. Thailand – Portugal, 15 min.

Doan na Champassak, Tiane & Jean Dubrel. 2012. Natpwe, le festin des esprits. France, 31 min.

Itō, Takashi. 1985. GRIM. Japan, 7 min.

Rivers, Ben. 2008. Ah Liberty! United Kingdom, 20 min.

Rivers, Ben. 2008. Origin of the Species. United Kingdom, 16 min.

Rivers, Ben. 2010. Slow Action. United Kingdom, 40 min.

Rivers, Ben. 2012. The Creation As We Saw It. United Kingdom, 14 min.

Russell, Ben. 2007. Black and White Trypps Number 3. United States, 12 min.

Russell, Ben. 2009. Trypps #6 (Malobi). United States, 12 min.

Russell, Ben. 2011. River Rites. United States – Suriname, 10 min.

Russell, Ben. 2013. Let Us Persevere in What We Have Resolved Before We Forget. France – United States, 20 min.

Russell, Ben. 2015. Greetings to the Ancestors. United States – South Africa, 29 min.

Arnold, Andrea. 2016. American Honey. United States – United Kingdom, 163 min.

Korine, Harmony. 2012. Spring Breakers. United States, 90 min.


This seminar is an investigation into the intersection between cinema and ritual on the background of questions raised by research in visual anthropology. The course serves at the same time as an introduction into the topic and a space for speculation.

While film-making is generally taken as something inherently modern and ritual as something ancient, with this seminar I want to open up discussions and perceptions to see the many ways the two can relate. To gain a shared ground from which to think, the first part will be focused on readings in the history and theory of visual anthropology.

This work will be done remotely, via homework assignments. In the second part, we will focus more specifically on ritual and cinema.

It will include screenings of classics as well as lesser-known works that engage the space opened up after the crisis of representation, including narrative films.