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Chapter 23. Ritual

Catherine Bell

Subject Religion

Key-Topics ritual

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631232162.2006.00025.x


Soon after the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York City on September 11, 2001, photographs of missing relatives were put up at local hospitals and buildings used by rescue services. As hope faded that the missing might be found alive, these posters gave way to memorials. All around New York City, people posted messages to individuals who had died, and many fashioned small altars that allowed them to share something of their distress and bewilderment. In one community an altar for the dead soon incorporated pictures of neighbors who, one by one, were determined to have been among those killed. Strangers brought flowers and joined impromptu prayers. At the site itself — “Ground Zero” — workers and community leaders orchestrated a series of ad hoc rituals over the course of the following months, from brief honor parades given to the remains of dead firemen found in the debris to the closure sought by the final, solemn escort for an empty stretcher and the last steel girder. While churches, synagogues, and mosques across the city held innumerable funeral and prayer services, the public spaces marked by street altars and other expressions of personal sentiments were also the focus of attention. They were the places where average New Yorkers felt part of an encompassing community united in grief. Families left tokens of personal significance, visitors posted messages ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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