Ritual: A Very Short Introduction

Oxford University Press, 2015.

Ritual is unavoidable, yet it holds a place in modern life that is decidedly ambiguous. What is ritual? What does it do? Is it useful? What are the various kinds of ritual? Is ritual tradition bound and conservative or innovative and transformational?



Stephenson, Performing the Reformation cover

Performing the Reformation

Oxford University Press, 2010. 

“This book challenges the reader to think in a complex manner about historical places and one’s own role in visiting them…but the main points of Stephenson’s analysis are clear enough even for a non-specialist.”– Lutheran Quarterly

Learn more at the Oxford Ritual Studies Series website.


Stephenson, Hesse cover

Veneration and Revolt

Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2008. 

“The enormous commentary on Hesse rarely takes this Pietist context seriously, but according to Stephenson, it is impossible to understand Hesse without understanding Pietism…. Stephenson’s argument is compelling and its implications are striking…. Clearly and engagingly written, thoroughly rooted in Hesse’s work and the vast commentary on Hesse, Stephenson’s book is a fine general introduction to Hesse, as well as a powerful argument about the roots of Hesse’s art. An important contribution to Hesse studies, Veneration and Revolt also contributes significantly to the ongoing debate about the origins, meanings, and trajectories of modernity.” – Robert Weldon Whalen, German Studies Review, 34/3, 2011

Chapters in Books



Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Ritual. (in progress). Chapters on ‘Ritualization and Ritual Invention’ and ‘Ritual as Action, Performance and Practice)

Oxford Encyclopedia of Bible and the Arts.

Oxford University Press, 2015.

Entries on “Leonardo da Vinci” and “Ritual Art”

An in-depth, comprehensive reference work that covers the cultural history of biblical texts, themes, characters, images, and the Bible itself in the literary, visual, and musical arts. Appearing in response to the shifting landscape of biblical studies over the last decade, OEBART embraces the broadest possible definition of “interpretation,” one that includes a cultural-historical perspective. Entries are organized primarily according to specific literary, visual, and musical artists, types of works, and periods (e.g., Mozart, Shakespeare, Children’s Bibles, Early Christian Art), revealing how the Bible figures in each. OEBART contains 148 entries ranging in length from 2,000 to 10,000 words. With bibliographic references and suggestions for further reading, each entry provides scholars and students with a reliable source of specialist information on topics that are not covered by existing general reference works.


The Vocabulary for the Study of Religion

Brill, 2015.

Chapters on “Initiation” and “Ritual.”

The academic study of religion has been an interdisciplinary endeavor since its inception at the end of the nineteenth century. Much of the theoretical vocabulary that is needed to study religion has been imported from adjacent disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, historiography, theology, philology, literary studies, psychology, philosophy, cultural studies, and political sciences. It is the strength of the academic study of religion to bring these approaches into conversation with one another. The Vocabulary for the Study of Religion provides an excellent platform to sustain this conversation. Written by experts with a background in a variety of disciplines, over 400 entries collected in the Vocabulary offer a unique overview of critical terms in the study of religion(s), as well as the themes and issues that have to be addressed in future research. This is the first dictionary in English that covers such a broad spectrum of theoretical topics. The Vocabulary is an indispensable tool for all students of religion and it will influence the academic discussion for many years.


Ritual, Media and Conflict

Oxford University Press, 2012.

Chapter 8, “What’s at Stake in Torture?”, authored with Werner Binder and Tom F. Driver.

Rituals can provoke or escalate conflict, but they can also mediate it and although conflict is a normal aspect of human life, mass media technologies are changing the dynamics of conflict and shaping strategies for deploying rituals. This collection of essays emerged from a two-year project based on collaboration between the Faculty of Religious Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands and the Ritual Dynamics Collaborative Research Center at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. An interdisciplinary team of twenty-four scholars locates, describes, and explores cases in which media-driven rituals or ritually saturated media instigate, disseminate, or escalate conflict. Each multi-authored chapter is built around global and local examples of ritualized, mediatized conflict. The book’s central question is: “When ritual and media interact (either by the mediatizing of ritual or by the ritualizing of media), how do the patterns of conflict change?”


Negotiating Rites

Oxford University Press, 2011.

Chapter 4, “Ritual Negotiations in Lutherland.”

In common understanding, but also in scholarly discourse, ritual has been long viewed as an undisputed and indisputable part of (especially religious) tradition, performed over and over in the same ways: stable in form, meaningless, preconcieved, and with the aim of creating harmony and enabling a tradition’s survival. The authors represented in this collection argue, however, that these assumptions can be seriously challenged.


Tradition and Formation

Pandora Press, 2008.

Chapter “Green’s Quixote, Freud’s Cervantes.”

Noted scholars in Germany, England, the United States and Canada here honour Peter C. Erb with original contributions across the wide range of academic disciplines in which he taught and did research during his 37 years as a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.