Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Social evolution: The ritual animal : Nature News & Comment

An interesting article about the uses and importance of ritual in building groups.While not specifically about college fraternities, many of the concepts are applicable to help understand why it is so damn difficult to eliminate hazing in chapters, and how gatherings like Edge, CLA, and Conclave, along with our 'private' ritual practices, are important in cementing fraternal ties.
Social evolution: The ritual animal : Nature News & Comment

[This article refers to...] a £3.2-million (US$5-million) investigation into ritual, community and conflict, which is funded until 2016 by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and headed by McQuinn's supervisor, Oxford anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse.

Rituals are a human universal — “the glue that holds social groups together”, explains Whitehouse, who leads the team of anthropologists, psychologists, historians, economists and archaeologists from 12 universities in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Rituals can vary enormously, from the recitation of prayers in church, to the sometimes violent and humiliating initiations of US college fraternity pledges, to the bleeding of a young man's penis with bamboo razors and pig incisors in purity rituals among the Ilahita Arapesh of New Guinea. But beneath that diversity, Whitehouse believes, rituals are always about building community — which arguably makes them central to understanding how civilization itself began.
[...]

Meanwhile, psychologist Ryan McKay at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Jonathan Lanman, a cognitive anthropologist at Queen's University, Belfast, are exploring how rituals can be broken down into their component parts and how each part influences behaviour. One such component is synchronized physical action [...] which social psychologists have shown promotes a sense of connection and trust between individuals.

This work builds on research by Richard Sosis, an anthropologist at the University of Connecticut, who has shown that immersion in collective rituals, such as communal prayer, in Israeli kibbutzim increases cooperative behaviour in economic games — but only with other kibbutz members.