The rite constitutes a central theme of the Anthropology of Religion, constituting, in terms of W. R. Smith, “ancient religion in its totality”. According to the author, “primitively, religion was not a system of beliefs with practical applications, but a set of fixed traditional practices to which all members of society were subject”. Ritual hypertrophy is a central aspect in ancient religions with an old structure, as is the case of religions of African origin. Along these lines, Radcliffe-Brown states that beliefs have a much more variable and volatile character than rites, which are more consistent and perennial, the reason why, according to him, rites should be the privileged object of study of the discipline. For Durkheim, the rite has a social dimension, has a character of repeatability, and performs a specific function within a society. In the wake of Freud, Malinowski conceived a psychological size in ritual, which would function as a cathartic and tranquilliser.
Moreover, Malinowski observes a “magical” size in the ritual, resulting from the fact that its efficacy resides in the ritual itself, i.e., when it summons an inherent power (the mana), distinguished, in his idea, from the “religious” dimension, which occurs when its efficacy depends on the intervention of forces external to the rite (gods and spirits). Marcel Mauss made a decisive contribution to the theoretical approach to the ritual. According to him, the ritual is a “traditional act” adopted by the collectivity or by an authority recognised, which concerns things conceived as “sacred”. For Mauss, the rite has the coercive function of manipulating things by employing offerings and requests. Victor Turner, in turn, considers that the study of rituals should be accompanied by the study of symbols, affirming that signs are multivocal, i.e., represent various things at the same time. For Turner, religious life presents characteristics proper to communitas, having “qualities of passage”. Finally, for Turner, ritual is a system of symbols that “stores traditional knowledge”, possessing a rigid and repetitive character, having a dramatic charge that allows the group to overcome divisions and reaffirm unity.