Our lives are populated by rituals. Baptisms. Funerals. Graduations. Singing happy birthday, chanting cheers at a sports event, saying grace before dinner. When we perform rituals, there’s no causal link between the behavior and the hoped for effect; for example, there’s no causal connection between exchanging rings at an altar and becoming wedded to another human being.
But my guest would say that doesn’t mean that rituals are useless and irrational; in fact, doing two decades of research on rituals caused him to do a one-eighty on his perception of their value. His name is Dimitris Xygalatas and he’s an anthropologist and the author of Ritual: How Seemingly Senseless Acts Make Life Worth Living. Today on the show, Dimitris explains what defines a ritual and how a ritual is different from a mere habit. He shares how a greater understanding of ritual is upending our theories of human civilization, and the idea that “first came the temple, and then the city.” Dimitris describes how rituals can be seen to have their own kind of logic and purpose, as they build trust and togetherness, serve as an effective way to deal with stress, signal someone’s commitment to a group, and ultimately contribute to people’s overall well-being.
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