Rituals, Beliefs, and Religion

 On Sunday’s, a lot of people go to church. They perform rituals that no one questions, they just do them. Daniel B. Lee’s article “Ritual and the Social Meaning and Meaningless of Religion” was a very interesting article describing how sociologists see beliefs and rituals are the two main components of religion. Lee even goes on to say that “it is impossible for participants in ritual to share common beliefs or intersubjectivity.” This was a bold statement because I never really thought about it, but every person is an individual and there is no way anyone can think exactly the same thing about everything, whether a religious belief or not. I agree with that statement though, because sometimes people go along with things they don’t believe in because they are worried about the consequences or don’t want the social alienation if they don’t comply.

I thought it was interesting that with Lee’s case studies of rituals, most of the member’s of the groups didn’t even know why they did things certain ways. A really interesting point “without a common understanding of what the rituals are supposed to signify or why they are meaningful.” If no one is in agreement on what a ritual actually means, how is it supposed to be meaningful. I think there are actually a lot of traditions we perform that we aren’t exactly sure why we do it. For example, I say “bless you” when people sneeze. I do it to be courteous, but I don’t even know the reasons behind it. I think that example is a kind of ritual many people do that they don’t really know why.

Everyone has different motives behind going to church. One of my friends truly desires to go every Sunday and goes to other church events, while another just goes to please her parents. Even though they are there for different reasons, when reciting a prayer, there is no way to tell what it means to them. As long as they act the part, their true feelings are not discovered, no matter what they are. Rituals are used as a way to make the church one and show your faith. Reading Lee’s article made me question though, if the rituals actually mean something. If people perform a ritual for a particular purpose and they don’t even know the purpose, aren’t they just doing some silly performance for the people around them? If there is no true test of your faith other than knowing how to do the ritual, there is no way to show that all people of the church believe the same and follow the same lifestyles. It is just assumed that everyone believes the same and perform the rituals to show their beliefs, not just to conform.

Article Source:

Lee, Daniel B. 2005. “Ritual and the Social Meaning and Meaninglessness of Religion.” Soziale Welt. 56:7-18.