Why people need rituals, especially in times of uncertainty

Why people need rituals, especially in times of uncertainty

The first thing my students wanted to know was: “Will we be able to have a graduation ceremony?”

The fact that the answer was no was the most disappointing news for them.

As an anthropologist who studies ritual, hearing that question from so many students did not come as a surprise. The most important moments of our lives – from birthdays and weddings to college graduations and holiday traditions are marked by ceremony.

Rituals provide meaning and make those experiences memorable.

Rituals are highly structured. They require rigidity, and must always be performed the “right” way. And they involve repetitition: The same actions are done again and again. In other words, they are predictable.

So even if they have no direct influence over the physical world, rituals provide a sense of control by imposing order on the chaos of everyday life.

By Dimitris Xygalatas, University of Connecticut

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