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Denison Journal of Religion

Abstract

This essay examines the link between existential despair and the use of religious ritual in several religions. Clark argues that ritual proves its significance when community members are suffering. Ritual does not offer much to those who are content within their current social frame, but it can rejuvenate those who use ritual to reconnect with divinity as they struggle through life despite their great despair. Clark first notes this process in black womanist theology. He uses the example of theologian Katie Cannon to show that the ritual of storytelling has not only provided black women with generations of stories of their survival and successes, but has also painted a picture of the oppressor against whom they must fight. The stories of Jewish women during the Holocaust such as those that Melissa Raphael collected, Clark claims, also offered hope despite their suffering. The ritual they turned to most frequently was washing each other and revealing the imminent, female face of God, Shekinah, to each other and to themselves. Clark also sees ritual play this hope-inspiring role in the biblical stories. He particularly turns towards the ritual of Passover as a way for the Jewish people to recommit themselves to their God despite the difficulties of knowing that God intimately. Finally, Clark concludes his argument that ritual, no matter its religious context, is a hope-inspiring tradition by using the example of Hinduism. The rituals of Hinduism, he explains, are performed when Hindus are dissatisfied with their current life situation, and the expectation that the performance of a ritual could lead to a tangible change in their life. Clark argues that no matter the specific expected outcome of a tradition, rituals are used by religions as a way of battling despair.

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