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The practice of religious rituals: two perspectives

Updated on August 3, 2015

A few weeks ago, I chanced upon an audio CD of some bhajans (spiritual songs) sung by famous Indian singers in a store. Next day I did my early morning meditation listening to spiritual songs of the CD as an object of meditation. There are some melodious songs in the CD sung in glory of the river Ganga, which is considered to be sacred by Hindus. It is revered as a deity by many, who perform many rituals pertaining to the Ganga. So, this motivated me to write this hub about religious rituals.

In India, people of different religions and faiths perform so many rituals conforming to their religious faiths and beliefs. So do the people belonging to different religions and religious faiths in other countries.

A ritual can be defined as a sequence of activities involving gestures, words and objects performed in special places as per a set of sequence. The rituals are performed according to religious as well as non-religious traditions. There is no limit to the kind of activities included in rituals, which may include music, dance, consumption of special foods, drinks, drugs, and use of special dresses in addition to gestures, words and objects.

Normally, a ritual is often used in context with worship performed in a place of worship. But a number of people use such religious rituals in their homes, shops or any other workplace due to some special reasons. In fact, the actual relationship between any religion's doctrine and its rituals can vary considerably from organized religion to non-institutionalized spirituality. The people following non-institutionalized spirituality normally don’t believe in performing any kind of religious rituals. Rituals often have a close connection with reverence, and thus a ritual in many cases expresses reverence for a deity or an idealized state of humane characteristic.

According to the sociologist, Mervin Verbit, ritual may be understood as one of the key components of religiosity. And ritual itself may be broken down into four dimensions: content, frequency, intensity and centrality. The content of a ritual may vary from ritual to ritual, as does the frequency of its practice. The intensity of the ritual depends upon how much of an impact it has on the practitioner. The centrality of the ritual lies in the religious tradition pertaining to particular religion.

There is a large section of people from various religious institutions, who believe in performing the rituals but, simultaneously, there exists a section of people in every religion, who don’t believe in these rituals.

We believe in – The group of people, who perform religious rituals, do so for a wide variety of reasons. And their faith in them is so strong that it appears that such rituals do create a reality for them. They believe in religious rituals because of the following:

  • Mostly, people perform religious rituals with the intention of achieving a wide set of desired outcomes.
  • The performance of different rituals has a unique bonding effect on the followers doing them. They strengthen the chemical bonds within the group of followers by releasing feel-good hormone oxytocin and blocking stress hormone cortisol and, thus, reduce anxiety, and boost their confidence.
  • Apart from creating a bonding, it creates a feeling of happiness for the individual or the group performing the rituals.
  • Their performance also facilitates hedonic adaptability in the individual or the group in unpleasant circumstances, for which they are specifically performed with strong faith.
  • Recently, a series of investigations by psychologists have revealed intriguing new results, demonstrating that rituals can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Thus, they can prove to be a strong motivating force to change undesirable thoughts and behavior in people.
  • Mourning rituals in the face of losses such as death of a loved one are ubiquitous in all religions that are performed by their followers to alleviate their grief. Social scientists say that they do work.
  • The performance of such rituals creates positive energy in the individual doing them and in the place, where they are performed, such as home, workplace or any other place.
  • The believers appear to be so sure to get their wish fulfilled by performing the rituals, relating to the wish, because of having a strong faith in them.

There is a downside to this approach of the practice of rituals as well. Some people perform religious rituals in order to cause harm or hurt to others in retaliation to the harm done to them, as they assume so. This creates negativity in the individual doing so as well as in the individual, against whom it is done. Thus, the transfer of such negativity will generate disharmony among people.

We don’t believe in – There also exists a section of people in every religion, who don’t believe in the practice of religious rituals. They don’t believe in religious rituals because of the following:

  • The people entertaining this view propose that the religious beliefs should change over time without altering the essence of fundamental principles and so should their rituals. Such people consider the people of the other group to be having fundamentalist viewpoint.
  • Such people oppose the dogmatic view of the religion practiced by the other group. They believe that such religious rituals promote religious dogmatism that may lead to religious intolerance.
  • They believe that progressive thinking individuals should not follow the ideologies and rituals within their religion without rational thinking.
  • They believe that individual belief systems should be formed in such a way that they don’t promote religious strife in the society.
  • Such people call these rituals superstitions, since they cannot justify the rationality underlying them.
  • Such people believe that living spiritual and ethical life will ultimately lead to general welfare of humanity instead of a life dedicated to the practice of rituals and rites.

Conclusion –

None can ignore the fact that the groups of people, who believe in religious rituals as well as who don’t believe in them, exist and will continue to exist in all religions and faiths. However, the allegiants of both groups have to accept their existence whole heartedly without bias, so that they can accommodate to the stance of each other. This will mellow down the attitudinal rigidity of the allegiants of both groups. Though we all know that everyone of us has a right to choose our beliefs, we still question the beliefs of others and judge them according to our own perspective. Nevertheless, every sensible person will object, if the hardened stances of the allegiants of both groups try to create social strife and disharmony.

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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image
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      Dr Pran Rangan 2 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for liking and appreciating my hub.

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 2 years ago from India

      Very thought provoking hub about a very interesting topic

      Some of the rituals, I feel, dont have any scientific basis. Hence I am not a fan of rituals

      Great hub

      Voted up and shared

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image
      Author

      Dr Pran Rangan 2 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your encouragement. I agree with your views in this regard.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Nice article and my conclusion would be to make every day a kind of ritual through living a spiritual and ethical life with an intent to enhance the welfare of humanity. Voted up!

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image
      Author

      Dr Pran Rangan 2 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your nice comments and appreciating my hubs.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 2 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      I believe that rituals are in us all. As I studied bibles and cultures I noticed rituals have always remained even to this day. I love to study them and find them all so beautiful. I agree that the unity and oneness we feel are necessary for all life forms. If you study humans and animals, you'll notice a "flock" of like-mindedness. I am so grateful for my church because its more than just a place where I go and worship the Creator, but a place of love, family, uplifting and freeing, I could go on and on but I'm sure you get my meaning. Thank you for sharing. I always find your hubs so useful.

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image
      Author

      Dr Pran Rangan 2 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your valuable comments. As a matter of fact, religious rituals are quite popular in all religions and dancing is a part of many such rituals.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 2 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I've always thought that humans perform many types of rituals, most of which are non-religious. They dance, for instance, in the same style all at once.