State Ritual and Symbolic Power in Early Modern Eurasia

AHA Session 39
World History Association 1
Thursday, January 4, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Columbia 9 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Geoffrey Koziol, University of California, Berkeley
Geoffrey Koziol, University of California, Berkeley

Session Abstract

This panel examines how early modern Eurasian empires developed and employed various symbols, rituals, and ceremonies to legitimize rule and integrate different political actors in cohesive administrative organizations. It takes up the question of ‘why do people obey?’ but pushes beyond the Weberian categories of domination and types of authority to look at the historical contexts of different techniques and methods that worked to accumulate symbolic power and facilitate the disciplining of political actors and formation of early modern states.

In the early modern period, imperial courts throughout Eurasia became increasingly ritualized. From Qing dynasty greeting rites to Bourbon court etiquette, political actors partook in and were subjected to an intensification of ritual practices and a widening array of symbolic expressions of politics and power. Much of the scholarship exploring this phenomenon focuses on Europe, however, constraining our ability to generalize. It is thus one of the objectives of this panel to push the inquiry about the logic and practice of state ritual and ceremonial activity beyond Europe and into other parts of Eurasia, particularly, the Ottoman, Russian, and Qing empires. Doing so, the papers contend, will further enable us to demystify ritual and show how it facilitated administrative organization and governance. In the language of historical sociology, it will help us link symbolic power with despotic and infrastructural power. 

The panel further examines the direct connection between ritual and state formation. The trend of ritualization exhibited in the historiography and explored in these papers corresponds with political, social, and economic developments across the continent, which saw contemporary rulers centralize power, build robust administrative apparatuses, conquer and consolidate territory, and exert far reaching control throughout their realms. Although historians have examined these later trends, there has been relatively little work attempting to connect them with the corresponding ritual and ceremonial activity of the day. How did symbols, rituals, and ceremonies help rulers accumulate symbolic power? How did rulers translate that symbolic power into administrative, economic, and military power? What were the effects of institutionalization and how did it impact political structures? The papers of this panel probe these questions.

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