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Rituals & Religion

Professor Gruenwald’s lecture, titled “Ritual & Religion,” analyzes how ritual observance in Christianity and Judaism differ, but offer relatively similar functions. Gruenwald primarily discusses ritual in the context of the Christian faith, most likely because it serves as the most popular religion in the world. Gruendwald’s observation of Chrisitan ritual practices, compared with larger themes of Jewish ritual tradition, allow listeners to understand how rituals’ function enables organized religion to maintain relevance up to the modern day. 

In the Christian tradition, “obedience to faith,” as Gruenwald puts it, is exemplified largely through faith in the spirit of Christ and through few ritual acts, such as communion and baptism, while the Jewish tradition requires its followers to study and practice the extensive laws of the Torah. Gruenwald cites Galatians 1:12 (“I did not receive [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught [the gospel]; rather, I received [the gospel] by revelation from Jesus Christ”) as a definitive statement of how Christianity’s approach to ritual observance differs from Judaism’s and aids itself in gaining popularity. Because Christianity, according to Paul, does not require immense learned ritual observance, as Judaism does, it finds itself easier to adopt; faith alone serves as the dominant factor in worshiping the Christian faith and, therefore, proves itself to be more resilient in the modern day. While the materiality of ritual acts, such as communion and baptism, tie Christians to Christianity, the convenience of faith in Christ being at the forefront of observing Christianity make the religion largely accessible and, ultimately, maintain its popularity up to the modern day. 

 Gruenwald further elaborates on the payoffs between ritual observance and faith by contrasting Christian ritual practices with the ones of Jewish tradition. Judaism is characterized by particular rituals, such as observance of the laws of the Torah and circumcision, that constitute a Jew as a Jew. Furthermore, Jewish tradition has laws and rituals that pertain to everyday activities, naturally weaving Judaism into the lives of its followers. The practice of defined ritual in Judaism enables the tradition to maintain relevance in the modern day, but, ultimately, Christianity’s heavy emphasis on faith, a trait that Judaism does not have, allows the religion - and the bureaucratic structures that accompany it - to be observed en masse. 

Flyer for Professor Gruenwald's Lecture