How do festivals change us and how have they changed?

What do they say about our history and our societies?

How do they soften or aggravate ethnic, geographical and religious differences

(a timely question if we consider how the intensely emotional ritual commemorating the martyr Husein has been used in Iran and in Iraq)?

Why was Carnival so important in the Middle Ages, and are our festivities still "carnivalesque"?  

Such questions as these are answered in different ways by different disciplines and those interested in festivities rarely have the opportunity to confront their perspectives. The Center for Research on Festive Culture fosters research about the world's past and present festive cultures by means of seminars and other communications among interested scholars or informed amateurs of festivities. Its programs are designed to answer three needs:


Our Purpose 

Festal occasions reaffirm a group's collective being. Such regularized, recurrent exhibition of people's place in a greater whole, natural or social, spiritual or secular, is exhilarating and even liberating, but it is not necessarily merry.  Festive expressiveness has many shades and many edges, dark and light, dutiful and abusive, ritualized and improvised. The blood of Aztec sacrifices was extracted in festal contexts. The first of May, the springtime of Maypole-garlanded love, was for centuries the favored moment in Europe to engage in charivari humiliation.

Festive culture research, as we know it, goes back to the early twentieh century. It was  broadly and synthetically developed from within the boundaries of folklore and anthropology, of social history and the history of practical arts like drama and music by scholars like  Arnold van Gennep,   Franz Boas,  Jane Ellen Harrison, F.M. Cornford and E. K. Chambers.

After World War II these initiatives were deepened and transformed by new methodologies and ideologies. Structuralism, semiotics, communication theory, performative esthetics joined hands with long-term history, everyday history, and history from the bottom up to beat upon the disciplinary doors separating social science from history or literary studies, and "high" cultural studies from "low".

Folklorists broke with the traditional idea of their subject as the study of age-old peasant and pastoral survivals. As a consequence of that insight, folklore became the study of transformations of customs wherever their records can be found, past or present, rural or urban. Anthropologists, on their side, dropped their earlier preoccupation with the comparative study of culture traits in tribal societies and turned to the task of analyzing specific performances in specific cultural situations.
That intellectual conjuncture produced in the 1960s and 1970s the  seminal works of Mikhail Bakhtin, E.P. Thompson, Natalie Zemon Davis, Peter Burke, Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie, Mona Ozouf, Roger Abrahams, Roy Strong and Victor Turner. In recent decades the extensive development of  performance studies and a growing emphasis on cultural diversity and hybridization have further widened the field.  Today scholars interested in festivities can be found in all departments in the humanities, from literary  and cultural studies to history,  from anthropology and sociology to folklore, performance studies, the visual arts, theater, dance and music.      

This is as it should be, for no  festival can be studied in its wholeness from the point of view of one discipline. Dancing, masking, religious belief, economic enterprise, and political manipulations all go into its making.  It is equally  impossible to deal adequately with the origins or the consequences of a festive occasion simply by studying it either as a popular or elite, an official or unofficial, an ethnic or nationalistic, a religious or class-conscious occasion. Such categories are indispensable, but each of  their individual limitations is glaringly exposed in the light of the extremely mixed practice that produces a festival.
To deal with such an explosion of perspectives, multi-disciplinary awareness and training are indispensable. Good multi-disciplinary work, however,  requires a consistent way to develop and maintain dialogue.  To further that dialogue is  the Center´s mission.
A second quality of our times has also prompted this initiative.  While  the disciplinary explosion occurred, the popularity of festivity in Europe and the Americas multiplied many times over.  The energies now devoted to activities called "festive"--legitimately or rather illegitimately, many would say--are as remarkable as the development of this field of study.  That is all the more reason for a Center like this to begin its admittedly pleasure-filled discussions and exchanges.  Join us!

Festive Culture Studies: An emerging  Discipline

- To extend intellectual exchange about this subject beyond national and normal professional boundaries.

- To rethink the idea of festive culture itself, broadening the usual idea of its subject-matter.

  1. -To provide particular space for the work of younger scholars pursuing these subjects

Subscribers to the Center receive e-mails keeping them informed about the seminars can request the text are sent the text of the papers on request

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