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Why Do We Miss the Rituals Put On Hold By the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The theories used to explain the purpose of rituals feel as myriad as the forms rituals have taken the world over. That growing body of research can help explain the unrest people are now experiencing as beloved rituals go virtual or get punted to some unsettled future. Multiple lines of evidence suggest, for instance, that rituals help with emotional regulation, particularly during periods of uncertainty, when control over events is not within reach. Rituals also foster social cohesion. Engaging in rituals, in other words, could really help people and societies navigate this new and fraught global landscape. “This is exactly the time … when we want to be able to congregate with other people, get social support and engage in the kinds of collective rituals that promote cooperation [and] reduce anxiety,” says developmental psychologist Cristine Legare of the University of Texas at Austin.

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