Rituals of dinner


There’s more to a meal than meats, vegetables and grains, according to Professor of Religion Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus, who teaches and writes about the role of dining and meals in religion and society.

The act of preparing food together and of sitting together for a meal bond people together, he explains.

“There is something really positive about the choreography of a meal,” he said. “You can even disagree with about stuff, and sometimes things can get kind of heated at a meal, but if you’re all eating at the table and sharing something there is a kind of counterweight to the tension and hostility that might come up.”

Professor Brumberg-Kraus teaches a First-Year Seminar course called “The Rituals of Dinner” that explores these and other insights from myriad perspectives in literature, religious traditions and anthropology. Students in the class also discuss the science of food traditions, and they prepare foods together and share meals, and as a final class project, they design a ritual banquet.

“You can’t talk about food without eating it,” he said.

The subject of food leaves lots to talk about, he said. For example, cultures around the world share strong norms about the importance of hospitality at the table, even among people who would be enemies in any other setting, he said, citing the “Red Wedding” scene from the HBO series Game of Thrones in which guests are slaughtered during the wedding meal.

“The reason that scene is so horrifying to people is that it’s not supposed to happen at a wedding or a meal. It violates our unwritten rules of hospitality that are shared quite broadly across cultures,” he said.

A conversation with… is a video series highlighting the teaching and scholarship of Wheaton College faculty members.