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Rituals, Spirituality, and Social Structures

Unilineal social evolution was proposed in the 19th century, envisaging all human societies evolving along a common track. It passes through three different stages, one after the other-universal evolution stages, and different societies classified as savagery, barbarian and civilized. In many modern and modernizing societal environments, religious beliefs and traditions are at the root of political and social instability and growth. Religion is a set of ideas, values, and behaviors that members of a group adopt. It is an organized system of interpretations, ideas, and ethics that determine human beings’ position in the world. Culture is defined by people’s ability to learn and employ representational ideas in everyday situations. Individual people learn the representational structure that every distinct social group reflects (Styers, 2017). Religious thinking and affirmations are inspired by human capacity to create meaningful symbols. The utilization of anthropological data to establish how religion developed was one of E.B Taylor’s main interests. His important theory of animism derived from the primal capacity to discriminate between dreams and waking awareness was the outcome of this obsession. The idealism of common ancestral development has shifted religious realism over the world.

Some forefathers had dreams about departed friends and family, many thought the departed were still living in a certain supernatural form. As a result, Taylor contended that anthropology was indeed a reformist discipline since it generated notions of souls and other supernatural creatures in general. Being a logical theory, even if there was an infantile philosophy, shrouded in profound and persistent ignorance. Taylor described religion as the belief in immaterial creatures, claiming that his beliefs arose from natural phenomenon interpretations (Styers, 2017). Efforts to understand death and life led to the belief in supernatural beings. Taylor said that animism is the general wellbeing religion, the foundation of religion. It therefore solves the question of which religion originated first and also which religion is the most fundamental and foundational of all faiths. He saw current religious beliefs in God as the result of basic ignorance surviving.

When James Frazer became acquainted with Tylor’s Primitive culture, his early classical pursuits were greatly expanded. Frazer believed that if contemporary people were living in a savage era, they would be able to better understand old rites and beliefs. For his lifetime research, he used the comparative approach of Tylor and established his own method for comparing customs among people from all eras and countries (Styers, 2017). The “tokenism” idea, which he held, justified the existence of savages and primitive communities using mythological ideas. A ritual or myth is based on what individuals believe about their reality, according to him. In his view, mythology and rituals are linked to human emotions.

Frazer felt that society progressed from magic to religion to science over time, according to his theory. The Golden Bough, a collection of traditions, practices, and ideologies from various nations, was assembled by Frazer. Emerging themes including birth, development, death, and reincarnation were highlighted by him. He was influential in the development of the concept of transcendent monarchy, which combines monarchy with the priesthood (Styers, 2017). Frazer approached religion out of a humanist standpoint, ignoring theology or anything that dealt with meaning and instead concentrated on the visible manifestations. The death of Christ and resurrection were likened to comparable tales from many other religious beliefs. In a condition of magic, according to Frazer, there existed a false relationship between rituals and natural happenings. Third stage research uncovered the genuine causal link between physical things and occurrences in the second stage, which is ascribed to supernatural inspiration.

Anthropologists argue that Taylor’s definition of religion was correct, but also that he did not adequately explain why it persists. As Tylor’s emoticon survival notion implies, a culture that is tied to previous phases of human civilization has certain features. With its concentration on the past, the idea of survivals threatened to shatter this conception’s coherence by drawing primal beliefs into conflict with current beliefs (Styers, 2017). To characterize ceremonial behaviors, Frazer employed scientific terminologies and comparisons, such as “magic wander if science,” historian Timothy Larsen says. Larsen slams Frazer for failing to emphasize that magical practices are only accurate to those who engage in them. Larsen has claimed that Frazer’s detailed depictions of magical acts were meant to frighten readers, but in reality, the portrayals more often related to the rituals themselves. Also, Frazer was slammed for comparing non-religious personalities to Christians on a regular basis.

The second anthropological researcher, Walter Baldwin Spencer, argued that using indigenous vocabulary to convey Indigenous Australian cultures was more realistic since it would be more descriptive. His use of Christian terminology included Christian overtones which were entirely unfamiliar to the civilizations he described (Styers, 2017). Rather than warn that employing local language would be off-putting and look ineffective, Frazer pushed towards the use of Judeo-Christian ones instead. He then attacked Spencer for failing to see the connection between non-estrangement of Aboriginal Australian symbols and Biblical ideas of atonement. As a result of Spencer’s first-hand study of the aboriginals, Frazer claimed that the notions were identical (Styers, 2017). Consequently, Frazer’s goals were misunderstood to be aimed at making Christianity appear odder and primitive.

The set sequence and stages have changed how people perceive religion. The constant revolution from primitivism to civilization conforms to the metrical analogy that most religious teachings are founded. The gradual scheme in contemporary societies enhanced the art of parallel evolutionary sequence that brought psychic unity. The unity gave rise to religious idealism, and people cultured it to conform to the basis of humanity. Thus, unilineal evolution has a bearing on how religion is understood today.

About Rituals

A ritual is a social behavior given to particular cultures used to strengthen social bonds and structures. Each practice involves a different form of action from daily life, therefore representing other purposes. If we use Christianity as an example, the ceremonial action of consuming bread and blood at the Holy Communion is distinct from the activity of consuming bread every day. The distinction is related to the meaning indicating the ritual act implied by the usage of the sign, which is distinct from the other meanings (Shannon et al., 2017). A ritual is an action that is surrounded by a web of symbolism and meaning. Berry’s definition posits that a ritual serves a communication function, with the goal, meaning, and function of the ritual being understood to be behind the specific act.

Anthropologists and Rituals

The anthropology of practice draws interest towards the diachronic study of specific rituals as they are performed and experienced by the accomplices. The actors are regarded as conscious agents in the pattern’s reproduction rather than taking eternal pattern. Anthropology accounts vary as to the meaning, function, and purpose of the given ritual. Some reports point out that it is customarily related to tradition, sacred to structures illusory in stasis (Shannon et al., 2017). Thus, this norm establishes the synchronic pursuit of a generalized and inevitable ritual form. Efforts to delimit this function have, in general, associated rituals to support social structures through representing it directly or legitimizing social authority through masking it. Therefore, the prominent social roles of rituals conceal or bolster the prevailing political order.

Emile Durkheim highlights that a ritual is an integrative function. He suggests that the specific role reinforces the relationship attaching the particular believer to god, who is a figurative expression of society. Durkheim denotes that a ritual’s role is to connect individuals to the community (Shannon et al., 2017). Further, he points out that god came to many societies as a king or a chief. Reinforcing the relationship between the king and the specific subjects clearly illustrates solidifying the social connections or legitimizing authority. Max Gluckman studied the incwala ritual practiced by Swazi people in South Africa. It is an annual ritual that reaffirmed the bond between the king and the participants through purposefully drawing interest to the political conflict caused by his authority. Gluckman defines such acts as “rebellion rituals” – the power that places overstressing actual conflicts of social rule and upholding unity in the face of disputes.

Victor Turner supports Gluckman’s conclusions because he observed senior chief Ndembu in Zambia. The ritual consisted of building a small shelter far away from the chief’s home village. Ndembu was taken there shoved and outraged through ritual functionalities before ceremoniously celebrating his appointment. Tuner regards this ritual as an anti-structure that places the exterior structure altogether (Shannon et al., 2017). He concludes that such rituals are rites of passage involving three stages separation, liminality, and re-aggregation. Gluckman sees rituals as social rebellion, supporting Tuner’s anti-structure notion. Despite all the understanding, many people still submit to universal ritual form and community will.

Living Society and Spirits through Ritual Practices

Concerning ritual practice, different powers of interpreting rituals have been explicitly established through anthropological models to fiestas. Other than understanding the confusion of the fiesta’s atmosphere as a part of the processes whereby vitality is subjugated through divine existence. Under Christianity belief, an individual might expect to live in heaven once their time is over on earth. The promise of new heavenly life and the mysterious promise land requires the participants to faithfully follow the rules of specific doctrines, rituals, or commandments (Shannon et al., 2017). Despite an individual faith in the traditional text, the subjects remain exposed to tribulations, discomfort, and trials that exist in the world. Religion is a social phenomenon that signifies lies in the practical inclination to bring people together. Religion describes various approaches of belief and practice concerning what individuals should term as sacred or spiritual.

Traditionally, societies and their leaders used religious symbols and narratives to give more significance to life. Christianity’s core is the belief in the trinity, God the father, son, and Holy Spirit. Islam symbolizes the crescent and the star, Buddhism represents the Dharma Wheel, and Judaism represents the Star of David. The significance of rituals and religions are very diverse, offering spiritual alternatives for the individuals in quest of purpose in religious pluralism and secularism state.

Rituals Intervention in Modes of Spiritual Healing

Rituals, spirituality, and social structures are seen as part of mutually informing each doctrine. Rituals symbolize social structures and spiritual healing while acting upon them. Rituals are regarded as important sites of spiritual healing and political contests between diverse social groups. Rituals are specifically evocative and malleable, thus intervening in the modes of spiritual healing. Therefore, they might enhance change, as much as they call to mind spiritual healing, tradition, and continuity (Shannon et al., 2017). Rituals in continuing practice are central plugs of making new history; therefore, the studies of the multiple formal possibilities might be essential to conceive opportunities for natural spiritual healing.


Shannon, J., Atalay, S., Collison, J., Herewini, T., Hollinger, E., & Horwood, M. et al. (2017). Ritual Processes of Repatriation. Museum Worlds, 5(1). Web.

Styers, R. (2017). Classical Anthropological Theories of Religion. In Religion, Theory, Critique (pp. 315-326). Columbia University Press.

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