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Emerging Ritual in Secular Societies


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An exploration of the importance of ritual in a secular world

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations. Credits. Notes on Contributors. Introduction. Jeltje Gordon-Lennox, Ashoka Association, Geneva, CH. Part I THE ORIGINS OF RITUAL. 1. The Art of Ritual and the Ritual of Art. Ellen Dissanayake. 2. Human Rituals and Ethology: A Scholar's Journey. Matthieu Smyth, Ritual Anthropologist, University of Strasbourg. 3. The Neurophysiology of Ritual and Trauma: Cultural Implications. Robert C. Scaer, Neurologist, Psychologist, Colorado, USA. Part II - SENSEMAKING IN LIFE EVENTS. 4. The Rhyme and Reason of Ritualmaking. Jeltje Gordon-Lennox. 5. Case Study: A Nordic Rite of Passage Come of Age. Jeltje Gordon-Lennox with Lene Murer, Siri Sandberg and Inger-Johanne Slaatta (Norwegian Humanist Assocation), Marie Louise Petersen (Danish Humanist Society), Bjarni Jonsson (Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association), and Tuomas Rutanen (Finnish Prometheus Camps Association). 6. Multicultural Wedding Ceremonies: Venturing into the World of Diversity. Andres Allemand Smaller, Journalist, Geneva, CH. 7. Case Study: A Funeral Ceremony for a Violinist. Christine Behrend, Celebrant, Pully, CH. 8. Case Study: A Memorial and a Wedding Rolled into one Humanist Ceremony. Isabel Russo, Head of Ceremonies at British Humanist Association, London, UK. 9. Part III RITUALIZING IN INTIMATE SPACES. 9. Ritual - A Resource for Health and Transformation in the Twenty-first Century. Michael Picucci, PhD., New York City, USA. 10. Sensing the Dead: The Role of Embodiment, the Senses and Material Objects in the Ritualization of Mourning. Joanna Wojtkowiak, PhD., Cultural Psychologist, University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, NL. 11. Food and Ritual. Lindy Mechefske, Journalist, Ontario, CAN. Part IV RITUALIZING IN PUBLIC PLACES. 12. Commemorative Ritual and the Power of Place. Irene Stengs, PhD, Cultural Anthropologist, Amsterdam, NL. 13. New Ritual Society: Consumerist Revolution and the Rediscovery of Ritual. Gianpiero Vincenzo, Accademia di Belle Arti di Catania, Italy. 14. Ritual and Contemporary Art. Jacqueline Millner, Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney, AUS. 15. Interview: Ritual Artist Ida van der Lee. Index.

About the Author

Jeltje Gordon-Lennox is an author and psychotherapist with expertise in the field of world religions, writing about ritual studies theory and the role of the senses in the contemporary practice of secular ritual. She is the founder of the Ashoka (.ch) Association, where she trains secular celebrants in the craft of secular ritualization. Jeltje lives in Switzerland.


Emerging Ritual in Secular Societies is a timely addition to the scholarship of sociology and culture, and indeed, to sociology of religion as well. Often overlooked by those who equate ritual with religion, the authors of this book provide rich descriptions of how secular rituals bind communities together and create meaning for groups and individuals. -- Sharon L. Miller, Ph.D. Director of Research, Auburn Theological Seminary, USA
Based on instructive case studies, this book contributes very valuable insights on the importance and functions of non-religious rituals within secularized pluralistic societies in order to create individual meaning in life and establish social cohesion in heterogeneous contexts. -- Professor Dr. Rene Grunder, Sociologist, Germany
Emerging Ritual in Secular Societies constitutes an important contribution to the burgeoning field of Ritual Studies. The essays featured in this edited volume, written by leading anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists, as well as ritual professionals, present a unique vantage point that combines both academic and practical concerns. Focusing on contemporary secular rituals, Emerging Ritual in Secular Societies successfully navigates between ritual theory and practice, offering answers to such issues as the role of ritual in modern life and the mechanisms involved in constructing new rituals to celebrate life events in a non-religious context. For far too long, modern scholars of ritual have ignored the perspectives of living ritualists in favor of developing theoretical frameworks that analyzed ritual from a supposed perspective of scientific cognitive distance. Following in the footsteps of contemporary ritologists such as Ronald Grimes, this volume aims to rectify this situation by offering a transdisciplinary exploration of ritual presented by experienced professionals involved in the creation and practice of new forms of ritual activity. This well-written and informative work will be of strong interest to scholars and students of ritual alike. -- Ori Tavor, Lecturer in Chinese Studies, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania, USA
Emerging Ritual in Secular Societies is a rich collection of essays, case studies, and interviews that help us understand how people make meaning, mark life transitions, and construct spiritual journeys without the benefit of religious institutions. It contributes not only to our knowledge of ritual practices and secularization, but also to our appreciation of the multiple ways people employ their imaginations to connect with the mystery of grace and the power of human community. -- The Rev. Dr. Deborah Kapp, Edward F. and Phyllis K. Campbell Professor of Urban Ministry, McCormick Theological Seminary
This fine volume shines a much-needed light on the growing field of secular ritual, and its breadth and depth offer rich insights for scholars and practitioners alike. It's a wonderful contribution to the important conversation about finding meaning and connection in an ever-more complex world. -- Sarah Kerr, PhD. Death Doula & Ritual Practitioner, Soul Passages, Canada
This book is indeed a transdisciplinary conversation on how ritual supports society in its primary role. The writers remind us that throughout the history of civilisation we have used ritual to deal with potentially traumatic events. As a therapist I particularly appreciate how Robert Scaer relates ritual to the neurophysiology of trauma. In trauma therapy our first challenge is helping people feel safe so they can self-regulate. Matthieu Smyth considers ritual a privileged means for group self-regulation through attachment and emotional attunement. Michael Picucci contributes outstanding resources for the use of ritual in clinical practice as well as in intimate relationships. The case studies and research demonstrate the importance of respecting ritual timing, interpersonal resonance and our own biological rhythms. Integrating all of these aspects in one book was a stroke of genius! -- Sonia Gomes, PhD in Clinical Psychology, International SE Advanced Faculty of the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute, USA. Creator of SOMA (Embodiment - Touch & Movement in Somatic Experiencing) in Brazil and USA
As an artist I'm drawn to secular ritual - those events where we 'make meaning' with each other outside of (though perhaps borrowing from) traditions. We dearly need guidance in this moment, as traditions harden into entrenched divisions. This book on contemporary ritual encourages us to rethink what it is that unites us, what deserves to be celebrated, and how to reinvent rituals to bridge our differences -- Suzanne Lacy, Ph.D. Artist, Professor, Roski School of Art and Design, University of Southern California
Through ritual we can experience stability and safety. As we 'do something' to mark an occasion, we connect with other people and something beyond ourselves. Those with complex trauma suffer greatly from loss of equilibrium and connection with others. Emerging Ritual in Secular Societies opens the way to treating emotional responses to trauma by ritualising transitions and celebrating life. This is effective when, as Jeltje Gordon-Lennox writes, ritual is a body-based, rather than a cognitive experience. -- Dagmar Harle, Master of Psychotraumatology (University of Zurich); Practitioner of Somatic Experience, TCTSY-Facilitator (Traumacenter Traumasensitive Yoga)
A well-researched book, with engaging dialogue on emerging ritual through the human sciences, art and life experiences, which leaves the door open for intelligent discussion. This is more than an academic book, it's a well-intended and clear-sighted discussion. I believe this book will benefit any reader and is an absolute must for many years to come. -- Cecile Wesolowski,
This creative enlightening book is rich in perspectives. It conveys a deep understanding of the value and meaning of rituals and incorporates many moving and powerful examples. It will appeal to anthropologists and psychotherapists, celebrants and faith leaders and individuals looking to express themselves at significant moments in their lives. It has the potential to spark ideas and give depth to people's experience. -- Dr Sharon Pettle, Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Systemic Psychotherapist, UK
Why do citizens of secular societies continue to ritualize? Contributors to this provocative volume answer with a focus on how we are actually doing it, documenting the immense creativity with which people craft and enact new rituals to celebrate unions, mark life transitions, say goodbye, heal, reconcile and remember, but also to experience the world afresh. -- Jane K. Cowan Ph.D. Professor of Anthropology, University of Sussex, UK
A delightful exploration of meaning-making beyond the frontal cortex. This fascinating book describes secular ritual as "multi-media packages" of "human technology" for making meaning through sound, touch, smell, taste, color, shape, and motion. A sensual map for times of transition. -- Lisa Schirch, Ph.D. author of 'Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding' and Research Professor at Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia, USA
Ritual has been an overlooked asset to the healing of trauma and to restoring broken connections. The diverse contributors to this volume make this a widespread and accessible work for all those interested in ritual and social trauma. -- Peter A Levine Author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma and Trauma and Memory
Demonstrating the need for a more inclusive ritual grammar, Emerging Ritual in Secular Societies meets the demands of a changing world. The variety of discussions in this book contribute generously to the bricolage that is the secular ritualist's toolbox. It is a highly useful methodology for practitioners. -- Nina Faartoft, Head of Ceremonies, Danish Humanist Society, anthropologist and funeral celebrant
This volume offers a much-needed roadmap for exploring a new territory: that of making sense of life through secular ritual, both in public and in private spaces. It offers foundational chapters and a number of useful case studies. It is a major contribution to the field of ritual studies and will be highly helpful to both scholars and practitioners. -- Peter Nissen, Professor of Spirituality Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

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