2007Is Judaism Boring?.
Conference talk given at: "Mind, Society, and Tradition", SBL, July 24, 2007, Vienna, Austria. See also http://www.sbl-site.org/Meetings/abstract.aspx?MeetingId=11&id=6741. Slides.




McCauley and Lawson (2002) have presented a model for religious rituals, which has since dominated the cognitive science of religion. First they introduce an action representation system, leading to a typology of religious rituals, which is then employed in a dynamic model of religious ritual developments. The key idea is the differentiation between what they call special agent rituals, on the one hand, and special patient and special instrument rituals, on the other. By referring to the linguistic background of this model (namely, to the thematic roles in syntax), the present paper suggests minor reformulations of the model in order to make it applicable to Judaism. It will be proposed that more thematic roles than the agent, the patient and the instrument of a certain action is possible: for instance, the recipient, the location, the time, etc. The notion of an enabling ritual should also be widened significantly. Subsequently, Biblical and rabbinic sources for certain Jewish rituals (including sacrifices, circumcision, ritual bathing, Shabbat and festivals, or prayers) will be analysed from the point of view of McCauley and Lawson's action representation system. Besides pointing to the above-mentioned reformulations of the model, it will be suggested that mainstream rabbinic Judaism may predicted by McCauley and Lawson to exhibit the tedium effect, if reference is made exclusively to the amount of special agent rituals, without referring to special patient and special instrument rituals. It is beyond the scope of the present paper, however, to analyse the emergence of splinter groups -- for instance, Christianity, Karraites, Shabbatai Tsevi's messianic movement or Hassidism -- as the proof and consequence of such tedium.