A pioneering anthropologist employs ground-breaking research to take readers on a journey through the rich tapestry of human ritual — showing how and why our most irrational behaviors are a key driver of our success. "Important…and a true delight to read." (Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy)

What's Inside

Read More Read Less


"The great mystery of human behavior is ritual. How do we explain circumcisions, debutante balls, hazing, royal coronations, and fire-walking? Dimitris Xygalatas is a brilliant polymath and this fascinating book explores this question through a mix of scientific research, evolutionary theorizing, and deep immersion into cultures with gruesome and painful rituals. An important intellectual contribution and a true delight to read."
Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy and The Sweet Spot
"Why do people walk on hot coals, scarify themselves, pierce their bodies with sharp objects, fast, kneel, handle poisonous snakes, endure hours of boring sermons on their days off? Armed with new tools, such as biometric sensors and hormone sampling, Xygalatas reveals the inner workings and crucial functions of ritual, which explain both its antiquity and ubiquity. Packed full of engaging case studies and experiments, this book is an entertaining and engaging introduction to the cognitive science of ritual by one of the pioneers of the field."
Edward Slingerland, author of Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization
"From the firewalking ceremonies of Greece to the terrifying rites of Amazonia, anthropologist-cum-psychologist Dimitris Xygalatas leads readers on a whitewater tour of the new science of rituals, exploring and explaining how and why all human societies engage in seemingly senseless, repetitive, and obscure customs that integrate rhythm, dance, music, pain, and sacrifice. Rich in ethnographic detail, personal narratives and psychological experiments, Ritual tell us how we can use this new science, and the wisdom embedded in ancient traditions, to elevate our lives, improve our health and strengthen our communities."—Joe Henrich, author of The WEIRDest People in the World
“We are ritual beings; we surround ourselves with rituals—at birth, death and everywhere in between. But why do rituals matter to us when they so often bring so few obvious benefits? In this striking, wonderfully written, and original new book, Dimitris Xygalatas unravels the mystery of how rituals—from the mundane to the bizarrely violent—can be the source of transformative power.”—Michael Patrick Lynch, author of The Internet of Us and Know-It-All Society
"With a knack for showing how 'strange' behaviors are closer to home than we realize, Xygalatas masterfully explains how what binds us to other human beings are our most mysterious activities — rituals. Actions with no clear purpose are often, ironically, the most meaningful things we do."—Jesse Bering, Professor of Science Communication at the University of Otago and author of Suicidal
“One of the best studies of ritual in years. In elegant, clean prose, Xygalatas draws on traditional ethnography and contemporary social science to show that rituals play a central role in the way we define who we are and in the health of our bodies. The book is a superb introduction both to classic anthropological theory and the modern science that extends its insights. Xygalatas shows that humans are indeed the ritual species.”—Tanya Luhrmann, author of How God Becomes Real
Read More Read Less