1st Edition

Ritual in Human Evolution and Religion Psychological and Ritual Resources

By Matt J. Rossano Copyright 2021
    174 Pages
    by Routledge

    174 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book explores the role of ritual in social life, human evolution, and religion. It explains the functions and purpose of varied rituals across the world by arguing they are mechanisms of ‘resource management’, providing a descriptive tool for understanding rituals and generating predictions about ritual survival.

    By showing how rituals have resulted from the need to cultivate social resources necessary to sustain cooperative groups, Rossano presents a unique examination of the function of rituals and how they cultivate, mobilize, and direct psychological resources. Rossano examines rituals from a diverse range of historical contexts, including the Greco-Romans, Soviet Russians, and those in ‘crisis cults’. The book shows how rituals address societal and community problems by cultivating three psychological resources – commitment to communal values, goodwill (both of humans and supernatural agents) and social support or social capital. Holding communities together in the face of threat, disaster, or apathy is one of ritual’s primary functions, and the author describes how our ancestors used ritual to become the highly social, inter-dependent primate that is Homo sapiens.

    Including examples from all over the world and providing detailed descriptions of both past and current ritual practices, this is fascinating reading for students and academics in psychology, sociology, religion, anthropology, and sociology.


    Chapter 1: Psych of Ritual

    Chapter 2: Ritual Management

    Chapter 3: Work of Rituals

    Chapter 4: Arch of Ritual

    Chapter 5: Hunter-gatherer Rituals

    Chapter 6: Civilized Rituals

    Chapter 7: Lifecycle Rituals

    Chapter 8: Soviet Rituals

    Chapter 9: Rituals of Desperation


    Matt J. Rossano is Professor of Psychology at Southeastern Louisiana University and a well-known authority on the evolution of ritual and religion. He earned his doctorate in Psychology in 1991 from the University of California at Riverside. He is an evolutionary psychologist who has authored or co-authored dozens of scholarly papers, book chapters, commentaries, and reviews.

    "Rossano has long been recognized as a pioneering scholar in the evolutionary study of religion and once again he is leading the way with his most recent book. With his usual deftness, insight, and clarity, Rossano offers a novel theory on the function of ritual. He not only explains how the functional benefits of ritual have favored its emergence and endurance in our evolutionary history, but he also shows why ritual remains socially powerful and relevant today." Richard Sosis, James Barnett Professor of Humanistic Anthropology, University of Connecticut

    "Why are rituals universal to all human societies, what purposes do they serve, and how and when did they first develop? In an important book, Matt Rossano resolves a century of anthropological debate, showing how rituals manage key emotional resources, thereby helping to create commitments to collective social memories and group identities. The result is no less than a major advance in our understanding of human origins." – David S. Whitley, author of Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit: The Origin of Creativity and Belief

    "Rossano has been at the forefront of new endeavors marrying contemporary research efforts charting young children’s social and cognitive proclivities with discoveries drawn from the emerging archaeological record left by our hominin ancestors. Here he applies his impressive breadth of knowledge to detailing a new proposal – that human ritual emerged to support psychological resources centered around social capital. Anyone interested in better understanding the human condition, and especially our proclivity for investing vast amounts of time, energy and finances in the puzzlingly strange acts of ritual that characterize any human group, will find much to farm here. It’s a thought-provoking and highly enjoyable read." – Prof. Mark Nielsen, PhD; FAPS, School of Psychology, University of Queensland