Some of the greatest atrocities have been caused by groups defending or advancing their political aspirations and sacred values. In order to comprehend and address the wanton violence of war, terrorism and genocide, it is necessary to understand the forces that bind and drive human groups. This five-year programme of research investigates one of the most powerful mechanisms by which groups may be formed, inspired, and coordinated: ritual

This project examines the role of ritual in child development, in social behaviour, and in the evolution of political systems:

  • Studying how children learn the rituals of their communities will shed light on the various ways in which rituals promote social cohesion within the group and distrust of groups with different ritual traditions
  • Qualitative field research, surveys, and controlled psychological experiments will be conducted in a number of troubled regions (including the Middle East and North Africa) to investigate the role of ritual in group bonding and inter-group competition
  • New databases will be constructed to explore the relationship between ritual, resource extraction patterns, and group structure and scale over the millennia

This work is being undertaken through the collaboration of international teams of anthropologists, psychologists, historians, archaeologists, and evolutionary theorists. The project is funded by an ESRC Large Grant (£3.2 million).