Culture and Ritualism

Ritualism Definition and Examples in Sociology

Definition of Ritualism

Ritualism is a term coined by Robert Merton (1910-2003), an American sociologist. It refers to routines and practices that follow expected behavior patterns, even when collectivity is not required.

Ritualism is a widely used word within sociology and is frequently associated with Max Weber (1864-1920), who first wrote about formalized and rationalized behavior in society.

A ritual is a highly formalized activity. Humans have used rituals for thousands of years. They promote conformity in societies, socialize into group norms and values, and regulate the behavior of individuals.

According to Merton’s theory, people use five responses to counter societal pressure. These are conformity, rebellion, innovation, ritualism, and retreatism.

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Ritualism and the Strain theory

The strain theory was a social action theory developed by American sociologist Robert Merton (1910-2003). The theory states that society imposes some form of pressure against deviant behavior.

Once individuals feel strain or pressure, they are more likely to commit deviant acts to relieve the strain. For example, stealing may be thought of as relieving strain or filling a void in the individual’s life.

Although ritualism is a form of conformity, it can also be seen as a means of relieving strain. A person that deviates from the accepted norms is likely to feel a certain amount of strain or pressure in doing so.

Conforming to these norms and behaving according to society’s accepted behavior patterns may help relieve this strain. It works well for those who are not ready to challenge the status quo.

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Examples of Ritualism in Sociology

Political Ritualism

Political ritualism is the routine and prescribed expressions of attitudes or feelings on important public occasions.

It is considered a form of political behavior associated with politicians, statesmen, and major public events.

Political ritualism can be seen as a means of self-promotion, where politicians use certain rituals to gain popularity and support.

This ritualism is an essential part of political events and ceremonies such as state funerals, political advertising campaigns, party conventions, and addresses to Parliament.

Bureaucratic Ritualism

Bureaucratic ritualism is the use of rites and rituals to express values and norms or to reinforce them.

Organizations and groups often use this type of ritualism to rationalize their activities. They also use it to reinforce the sense of belonging among members and document their history.

The government, military, and police units are examples of organizations that use ritualism to reinforce their authority. They do this by displaying flags, badges, and insignia, using badges of rank, and introducing regular procedures in which group members participate.

Religious Ritualism

Rituals are an essential part of religious services and rites. Religion is associated with ritualism in many cultures. The sacred rituals performed by some religions are designed to reinforce the beliefs of their members.

For example, most Christian ceremonies involve rituals such as:

  • Wearing church robes or special outfits
  • Praying
  • Singing and chanting repetitive phrases
  • Giving offerings in the form of money, food, or other items
  • Reading scripture passages
  • Listening to sermons by religious leaders.

Ritualism is also present in the practices of non-western religious groups, such as African Vodun, which is practiced in Haiti.

The rituals of this religion include dancing, chanting, and purification ceremonies that are believed to drive evil spirits away.

Other examples of religious ritualism could be found in Buddhism and Hinduism, where meditation is a central aspect of religious practice.

Education and Ritualism

Rituals are often used in education to reinforce learning objectives. Schools use special outfits, ceremonies, and recitations of facts. An example of a familiar ritual performed in most schools is the flag-raising ceremony. This is usually done in the morning before classes begin.

 As the national flag is being hoisted, students are expected to stand and sing their national anthem. This ritual is often done by a school official who represents the principal or headteacher. Ritualism can also be found in the recitation of pledges and oaths as part of school ceremonies.

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Art Ritualism

Rituals are also a part of creative expression. In many artistic disciplines, such as music and dance, the practitioners use traditional gestures known as choreography or movements to express their creativity.

Pantomime and music are often used in classical dance to express love, anger, or triumph. In western classical music, composers use repetition in their compositions to create a sense of tension.

Other artistic disciplines such as poetry and literature are also associated with ritualistic traditions. They use poetic forms such as rhyme, rhythm, and meter to convey meaning through words.

Ritualism is also found in creating art, where artists often use instruments, paints, and other tools to create works.

Through creating an artwork, the artist becomes part of a long tradition of art production that has been passed on from one generation to another.

In this way, ritualism is a part of the creative process used to add meaning to artistic works.

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Ritualism in Games and sports

Games such as football and basketball involve elaborate rituals to mark important stages of the games.

For example, when a football team scores a goal, they often celebrate by performing a set of predetermined movements. This might involve one player removing his shirt and waving it around in the air, while other players surround him and cheer, or the whole team linking arms and jumping together.

Rituals are an essential part of sporting events such as the Olympics. During the opening and closing ceremonies, performances include traditional music, dance, and large-scale puppetry.

For example, in the Olympics opening ceremony, one of the main acts involves a massive celebration using puppets to depict traditional scenes from Japanese history.

Personal Rituals in Everyday Life

Ritualism is also present in the rituals and habits people follow in their daily life.

For example, many people brush their teeth in a certain way and follow the same steps before going to bed.

Other personal examples of ritualism include washing the clothes and taking them out of the dryer a certain way or spending a set amount of time in the shower.

Ritualism is also seen in people’s dietary habits. For example, they may follow a set routine when choosing for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This routine is often marked by a ritualistic cutting the food into bite-size pieces before eating it.

Ritualism is also present in the way people perform daily tasks such as getting dressed or brushing their hair.

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Cultural goals

There are culturally valued goals that people feel the pressure to achieve. These goals are sometimes referred to as the ‘American dream,’ and achieving them helps one attain a certain social status.

People work hard to achieve these goals and often develop habits to help them stay on track. This might include prioritizing their daily tasks or cutting down on certain leisure activities.

These goals are often presented in the media to achieve happiness and success, even though there is no concrete evidence that they are directly linked to these things.

Those who fall short of society’s expectations are met with rejection and turn to other ways of finding relevance. Most of them get into crimes and all kinds of deviance.

Bottom Line

Ritualism is found in a variety of activities, including art, games, and sports. It also plays an essential role in people’s everyday life. People follow specific standards of behavior to achieve cultural goals.

The rituals they follow become a part of their daily routines over time. Ritualism helps society members to cope with societal pressures and find a sense of purpose in their lives.

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