Ritual is the oldest, and certainly the most enigmatic, thread in the history of human culture. And it presents a profound paradox: people ascribe the utmost importance to their rituals, but few can explain why they are so important. Apparently pointless ceremonies pervade every documented society, from handshakes to hexes, hazings to parades. Before we ever learned to farm, we were gathering in giant stone temples to perform elaborate rites and ceremonies. And yet, though rituals exist in every culture and can persist nearly unchanged for centuries, their logic has remained a mystery - until now.
In Ritual, pioneering scientist Dimitris Xygalatas leads us on an enlightening tour through this shadowy realm of human behaviour. Armed with cutting-edge technology and drawing on discoveries from a huge range of disciplines, he presents a powerful new perspective on our place in the world. In coronations, in silent prayer, in fire-walks and terrifying rites of passage, in all the bewildering variety of human life, Ritual reveals the deep and subtle mechanisms that bind us together.
The Anastenaria are Orthodox Christians in Northern Greece who observe a unique annual ritual cycle focused on two festivals, dedicated to Saint Constantine and Saint Helen. The festivals involve processions, music, dancing, animal sacrifices, and culminate in an electrifying fire-walking ritual. Carrying the sacred icons of the saints, participants dance over hot coals as the saint moves them. 'The Burning Saints' presents an analysis of these rituals and the psychology behind them. Based on long-term fieldwork, 'The Burning Saints' traces the historical development and sociocultural context of the Greek fire-walking rituals. As a cognitive ethnography, the book aims to identify the social, psychological and neurobiological factors which may be involved and to explore the role of emotional and physiological arousal in the performance of such ritual. A study of participation, experience and meaning, 'The Burning Saints' presents a highly original analysis of how mental processes can shape social and religious behaviour.
Why is the set of human beliefs and behaviours that we call "religion" such a widespread feature of all known human societies, past and present, and why are there so many forms of religiosity found throughout history and culture? "Mental Culture" brings together an international range of scholars from Anthropology, History, Psychology, Philosophy, and Religious Studies to answer these questions. Connecting classical theories and approaches with the newly established field of the Cognitive Science of Religion, the aim of "Mental Culture" is to provide scholars and students of religion with an overview of contemporary scientific approaches to religion while tracing their intellectual development to some of the great thinkers of the past.