Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge

By Michael Suk-Young Chwe | Go to book overview
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Competing Explanations

Here I briefly discuss two competing kinds of explanations in contrast to ours. One way by which rituals are thought to influence behavior is through direct psychological stimulation. For example, “rhythmic or repetitive behavior coordinates the limbic discharges (that is, affective states) of a group of conspecifics. It can generate a level of arousal that is both pleasurable and reasonably uniform among the individuals so that necessary group action is facilitated” (d’Aquili and Laughlin 1979, p. 158). This can very well be the case but, as remarked earlier, cannot be the whole story because, if it were, a ritual would not have to be a collective event; each person could simply be aroused individually and separately. Our argument relies on each person not just being in a similar emotional or mental state, but each person being aware of others and aware of others’ awareness, which is not captured if one thinks only in terms of how a single organism responds to stimuli. Putting this another way, according to Eugene d’Aquili and Charles Laughlin (1979, p. 158), “the simplest paradigm to explain the situation in man [during ritual] is the feeling of union that occurs during orgasm [in which] there is intense simultaneous discharge from both of the autonomic subsystems. We are postulating that the various ecstasy states that can be produced in man after exposure to rhythmic auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli produce a feeling of union with other members participating in that ritual.” The physiological effects of orgasm undeniably can help in establishing a close and intimate connection with another person, but orgasms often occur with little or no emotional connection or even alone.


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Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge


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