Learn more about Ritual
A ritual may be performed at regular intervals, or on specific occasions, or at the discretion of individuals or communities. It may be performed by a single individual, by a group, or by the entire community; in arbitrary places, or in places especially reserved for it; either in public, in private, or before specific people. A ritual may be restricted to a certain subset of the community, and may enable or underscore the passage between religious or social states.
The purposes of rituals are varied; they include compliance with religious obligations or ideals, satisfaction of spiritual or emotional needs of the practitioners, strengthening of social bonds, demonstration of respect or submission, stating one's affiliation, obtaining social acceptance or approval for some event — or, sometimes, just for the pleasure of the ritual itself.
Rituals of various kinds are a feature of almost all known human societies, past or present. They include not only the various worship rites and sacraments of organized cults and religions, but also the rites of passage of certain societies, oaths of allegiance, coronations, and presidential inaugurations, marriages and funerals, school "rush" traditions and graduations, club meetings, sports events, halloween parties and veteran parades, Christmas shopping, and more. Many activities that are ostensibly performed for concrete purposes, such as jury trials, execution of criminals, and scientific symposia, are loaded with purely symbolic actions prescribed by regulations or tradition, and thus partly ritual in nature. Even trivial actions like hand-shaking and saying hello are rituals.
In any case, an essential feature of a ritual is that the actions and their symbolism are not arbitrarily chosen by the performers, nor dictated by logic or necessity, but are, at least in part, prescribed and imposed upon the performers by some external source.
 Ritual actions
Due to their symbolic nature, there are hardly any limits to the kind of actions that may be incorporated in a ritual. The rites of past and present societies have typically involved special gestures and words, recitation of fixed texts, performance of special music, songs or dances, processions, manipulation of certain objects, use of special dresses, consumption of special food, drink, or drugs, and much more. Religious rituals have also included animal sacrifice, human sacrifice or ritual suicide, and other forms of ritual murder.
Ritual serves diverse purposes including:
- Ritual purification with the aim of removing uncleanliness, which may be real or symbolic.
 Religious ritual
In religion, a ritual can comprise the prescribed outward forms of performing, the cultus or cult of a particular observation within a religion or religious denomination. Although ritual is often used in context with worship performed in a church, the actual relationship between any religion's doctrine and its ritual(s) can vary considerably from organized religion to non-institionalized spirituality, such as ayahuasca shamanism as practiced by the Urarina of the upper Amazon. Rituals often have a close connection with reverence, thus a ritual in many cases expresses reverence for a deity or idealized state of humanity.
Rituals have formed a part of human culture for tens of thousands of years. The earliest known evidence of burial rituals dates from around 20,000 years ago. (Older skeletons show no signs of deliberate 'burial', and as such lack clear evidence of having been ritually treated.)
Alongside the personal dimensions of worship and reverence, rituals can have a more basic social function in expressing, fixing and reinforcing the shared values and beliefs of a society. This function can be exploited for political ends, though it lies at the heart of most sociological understandings of religious ritual.
Rituals can aid in creating a firm sense of group identity. Humans have used rituals to create social bonds and even to nourish interpersonal relationships.
Anthropology is similar to sociology in its concern for Social actions and culture. However, anthropologists have historically studied pre-industrialized societies. Anthropologists have found rituals performed across the globe, in every conceivable culture. In its most basic elements ritual is one of many cultural universals, yet cross-cultural variation in form, content and social function is often great. Of particular interest to anthropologists has been the role of ritual in structuring life crises, human development, religious enactment and entertainment. Among anthropologists, and other ethnographers, who have contributed to ritual theory are Victor Turner, Ronald Grimes, Mary Douglas, and the Biogenetic Structuralists. .
Nearly all fraternities and sororities have secret rituals incorporated into their structure. Many were founded in college and university societies resistant to the idea of a fraternal organization. Thus, numerous aspects of ritual and ritualistic proceedings are engrained into the workings of the societies.
In psychology, the term ritual sometimes refers to a specific action or series of actions that a person performs in a given context which otherwise has no apparent reason or purpose. The term may refer especially to compulsive behaviors of people afflicted with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
 Further reading
Bell, Catherine. (1997) Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bloch, Maurice. (1992) Prey into Hunter: The Politics of Religious Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
D'Aquili, Eugene G., Charles D. Laughlin and John McManus. (1979) The Spectrum of Ritual: A Biogenetic Structural Analysis. New York: Columbia University Press.
Douglas, Mary. (19660 Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo". London: Routledge.
Erikson, Erik. (1977) Toys and Reasons: Stages in the Ritualization of Experience. New York: Norton.
Gennep, Arnold van. (1960) The Rites of Passage. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Grimes, Ronald L. (1994) The Beginnings of Ritual Studies. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.
Malinowski, Bronislaw. (1948) Magic, Science and Religion. Boston: Beacon Press.
Rappaport, Roy A. (1999) Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Smith, Jonathan Z. (1987) To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Turner, Victor W. (1969) The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company.
 See also
- Civil religion
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Ritualist movement
- Myth and ritual