The Ritual Project is an inter-disciplinary, multi-centre effort to discover the origins and functions of ritualistic acts in human cognition and culture, in the formation of co-operative communities, the transmission of ideas and behaviours, and the eruption of inter-group conflict. Through cautious ethnography, quantitative archaeology and historiography, large-scale surveys, and laboratory- and field-based experiments, we aim to understand where rituals come from, and how they have affected and still affect the way we learn and live and love and fight and die.

The Ritual Project is funded by the UK Economic Social Research Council, and involves researchers from all around the world, including the University of Oxford; Royal Holloway University of London; Queen’s University Belfast; University of Texas in Austin; SUNY Binghamton; UNED Spain; National University of Singapore; University of New South Wales; University of Otago; Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte; University College London; University of Bath; Hokkaido University; University of Auckland; Stanford University; University of Hertfordshire; Coventry University; University of Exeter; University of Michigan; Harvard University; University of Connecticut; Trinity College Dublin; Université Montpellier 2; Western Sydney University and Macquarie University.

FEATURED ARTICLE: “Brothers in arms: Libyan revolutionaries bond like family”

Photo from Magharebia

Photo from Magharebia

The human propensity to sacrifice one’s life for genetic strangers has puzzled scientists since Darwin. Here, we sought answers to this puzzle by embedding ourselves within groups of individuals prepared to die for one another—Libyan revolutionary battalion members who fought against Gaddafi’s regime in 2011. We found striking evidence of extraordinarily tight, familial-like bonds among those who put themselves directly in harm’s way (i.e., frontline combatants). In fact, for nearly half of combatants, their bonds to each other were stronger than bonds to their own families. Moreover, these kin-like bonds to one another predispose them to extreme self-sacrifice.

Full article available through PNAS open access.