Imitation and Cohesion in the Evolution of Social Complexity
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Publisher: Oxford University Press
Number of Pages: 256
Width: 16.7 cm
Height: 24.2 cm
A radical exploration of how rituals have influenced history over thousands of years. From infancy, we copy those around us in order to be like others, to be one with the tribe. Other primates will copy behaviour that leads to transparent benefits, such as access to food, but only humans promiscuously copy actions that have no obvious instrumental purpose. The copying of causally opaque behaviour (rituals) has allowed cultural groups to proliferate over time and space. The frequency and emotional intensity of ritual performances constrains the scale and structure of cultural groups. Rare, traumatic rituals (e.g. painful initiations) produce very strong social cohesion in small, relational groups such as military battalions or local cults whereas daily and weekly rituals (e.g. collective praying in mosques, churches, and synagogues) produce diffuse cohesion in indefinitely expandable communities. This pioneering study presents a theory of how these two 'ritual modes' have influenced the course of human history over many thousands of years and continue to shape the groups we live in today. The resulting programme of research offers a radically new paradigm for the social sciences, one that bridges across disciplinary silos, samples the full diversity of the world's populations, and plumbs our richest sources of information about cultural systems, past and present. In doing so, leading anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse shows how we can modify the way we tackle some of the most pressing challenges of our day, from violent extremism to global heating. All the problems humanity creates are ultimately problems of cooperation. Solving these problems will require social glue. Whitehouse suggests various practical ways in which our growing knowledge about the role of ritual in group bonding can help us achieve a more peaceful and prosperous future, not only for ourselves but for all species who share the planet with us.
Whitehouse shows how his magisterial theory concerning modes of religiosity also offers a rich and compelling account of the social and psychological foundations of the formation of and the cooperation within human groups. Elegantly written, clearly argued, and deeply insightful, The Ritual Animal is an intellectual feast * Robert N. Mccauley, Emory University * From big-data mining of the world's historical and ethnographic record to field studies spanning the tribal cultures of New Guinea to the war zones of the Middle East, the reader of The Ritual Animal discovers the science underlying the seemingly arbitrary and irrational rituals that bind together friends or strangers or even humanity as a whole. * Scott Atran, CNRS * In a magisterial survey from pre-history to mass society, from birth to the afterlife, from football fans to terrorists, Harvey Whitehouse offers a compelling, ambitious and testable theory of why we human beings devote so much time and effort to activities with so little instrumental benefit. * Paul Harris, Harvard University *