We take most of our rituals for granted. From the social conventions that dictate how we greet one another to the ways that we express our religious faiths, we follow familiar patterns that are often simply accepted. But these rituals were not established arbitrarily or by happenstance. Indeed, by digging deeper into the origins or our most enduring rituals, researchers can see the way that they reveal something essential about human nature and culture. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time characterized by heightened uncertainty and danger, we have been forced to abandon some of the more common rituals that have typically offered social support, comfort, and security. We have seen new norms arise from our pandemic experience that directly reflect how we are feeling and what we are thinking at the time they were born. As we substitute new rituals for those we’ve had to discard, scientists wonder which will endure and which will fall by the wayside. Cristine Legare, who studies the meaning of rituals in human civilization, explains why rituals work for us, what happens when we lose them, and how we’re creating new ones that may stand the test of time.
Cristine Legare is a professor of psychology and the director of the Center for Applied Cognitive Science (CACS) at The University of Texas at Austin. The objective of her research program is to promote global cognitive science by bringing together researchers in the biological, cognitive, social, and educational sciences with practitioners, designers, and community partners. She and her colleagues harness insights about how the mind works to advance the science of learning and to design more effective behavioral and social change interventions. They conduct interdisciplinary and comparative research using mixed-methodologies emphasizing community engagement, equity, and international development.