Original Research - Special Collection: P.M. Venter Dedication

What is the importance of executing rituals ‘correctly’ and why do people continue to engage in them?

Hennie Viviers
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 68, No 1 | a978 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v68i1.978 | © 2012 Hennie Viviers | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 05 November 2010 | Published: 25 January 2012

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Hennie Viviers, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

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Rituals, borne out of our embodied practical reason, are deeds that are counterintuitive in terms of cause and effect. From a cognitive point of view, two kinds of religious rituals can be identified: special agent rituals, where superhuman agents act on human patients (onceoff, highly emotional; e.g. initiations, weddings) and special instrument and patient rituals, where human agents act on superhuman patients (repeated, less emotional; e.g. sacrifices, Holy Communion). The idea of ‘correctness’ applies more stringently to the first kind than the second, for instance: Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh in Genesis 48. Rituals stabilise, reconstitute and replicate our ‘cosmos’ or imaginative worlds as they realign our intersubjective relations. They are tenacious and persistent, because they evoke, usually in an emotional and motivational way, our sense of urgency, our deeply felt need to maintain sound social relations and our intuitive ability to form notions of a counterintuitive world. The aim of this article was therefore to highlight and illustrate the role our evolved mental tools play when conducting rituals, especially when conducting some rituals ‘correctly’ and others less stringently so. Furthermore, the psychological appeal that rituals have on the human mind was also explained.


cognitive science; counterintuitive action; Genesis 48; persistence of rituals; rituals


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