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Research

The Ritual Project consists of three inter-related streams of research: The Imitative Learning of Rituals, The Social Function of Rituals, and Rituals in Real Life.

The Imitative Learning of Rituals is led by Cristine Legare and her Cognition, Culture, and Development Laboratory (CCD Lab) at the University of Texas, Austin. Legare and her colleagues are currently conducting pioneering studies on the ritual stance, a cognitive inclination activated by linguistic cues (e.g., the lack of instrumental explanation) and task-related cues (e.g., start-end state equivalence). Studies in this stream, conducted in Legare’s CCD Lab as well as in rural Vanuatu have now demonstrated that activation of the ritual stance increases imitative rigidity. More research on the mechanisms underlying the ritual stance are in progress.

The Social Function of Rituals was initially led by Ryan McKay at Royal Holloway, University of London, and since June 2015 has been co-ordinated by Michael D. Buhrmester. McKay, Buhrmester, and his colleagues at the Centre for Anthropology and Mind in Oxford are currently investigating the role of rituals in producing and maintaining social cohesion and intergroup conflict. Their current focus is on the effects of three common features of rituals—causal opacity, synchrony, and shared dysphoria—on group identity and behaviour. Studies are currently being undertaken in the UK, New Zealand, Japan, USA, Libya, and Brazil.

Rituals in Real Life is led by Harvey Whitehouse at the University of Oxford. Whitehouse and his colleagues at Oxford and at the Institute for Cognition and Culture, QUB are examining the causes and consequences of ritual participation among existing social groups, particularly those in high conflict regions (e.g., Libya, Belfast). This research stream also includes large-scale quantitative historiographical and archaeological research (e.g., Çatalhöyük, Turkey), which look at the role of rituals in historical civilizations.