Painful rituals: good for some, not for others

Connor Wood

Painful_ritual

From the somber Catholic high mass to the painful, often frightening initiation rites of many tribal cultures, every human society practices some form of ritual. But the rituals themselves differ radically – in ways that may be predictable across cultures. Namely, new research shows that complex cultures that depend on agriculture tend to have frequent, repeated rituals that are relatively sedate and calm. Smaller cultures with less agriculture, on the other hand, feature rituals that are less frequent but far more emotionally and physically arousing. Ultimately, these trends may give us a vital clue as to how human culture changes over time.

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Rituals may affect memory in different ways

Connor Wood

shaman_ritual

Do you remember what you were doing when you heard about the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001? How about the details of the pastor’s outfit at your wedding? Memory is powerfully affected by the contexts and circumstances within which we form our memories, but perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the rites and rituals that undergird religion. István Czachesz, a researcher the University of Helsinki, Finland, thinks that affecting memory may be among the most important functions of religious rituals.
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