A recent episode of First Civilizations interviews UConn Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Dimitris Xygalatas on the role of ritual in the emergence of the first civilizations, religions, and priestly classes. First Civilization is a PBS documentary series that uses “the latest in archaeology, anthropology and genetics” to explore “how and why civilization first sparked into life.”
In a recent article in Newsweek and in light of the upcoming holiday season, UCONN Professor of Anthropology, Natalie Munro, presents evidence for evidence of a 12000-year-old holiday feast in the Hilazon Tachtit cave in northern Israel. This archaeological site was discovered and excavated by Professor Munro and her colleague Dr. Leore Grosman of the Hebrew University in the late 1990s. The site includes, among other things, the tomb of a “shaman:” the special burial of an older woman whose fine construction, plastered walls, and “eclectic array of animal body parts,” especially carnivores such as leopard, marten, and eagle, set the burial apart from other graves in the cave, and indeed other contemporary sites in the Middle East.
Based on other artifactual indicators from the site as well as other contemporary archaeological sites, Dr. Munro and her colleague have interpreted this evidence as a feast associated with the transition to agriculture. According to the article, “[t]hese feasts had an important role to play. Adapting to village life after hundreds of millennia on the move was no simple act. Research on modern hunter-gatherer societies shows that closer contact between neighbors dramatically increased social tensions. New solutions to avoid and repair conflict were critical.”
The discoveries at Hilazon Tachtit were also published by Leore Grosman and colleagues in 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Dimitris Xygalatas’ latest publications focus on the issues of morality and psychology of rituals. Professor Xygalatas is coauthor of a paper in the latest issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review entitled “The Psychology of Rituals: An Integrative Review and Process-Based Framework.” With growing interest among psychologists in rituals and the causal mechanisms of ritual behavior, this paper serves to “provide an organizing framework to understand recent empirical work from social psychology, cognitive science, anthropology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience.” In a second publication for the online media outlet The Conversation, Dimitris tackles patterns of distrust among religious people toward atheism and irreligious people, and the relationship between religious prejudice, morality, and belief. The Conversation is a not-for-profit media outlet for scientific and academic news, and reports a monthly online audience of 5.2 million users onsite, and reaches around 35 million people through “creative commons republication.” Dimitris Xygalatas is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UCONN.
Sapien, the online journal of the Wenner-Gren Foundation, has published a photo essay by Dr. Dimitris Xygalatas, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UCONN. The essay entitled “The Perennial Power of Ritual” focuses on the psychological, and cultural significance of ritual behavior, including its role in stress reduction, community building, providing guidance, and aggression management. The photo essay covers examples of ritual practice in Spain, Madagascar, Vietnam, Mauritius, and Guatemala.
Dimitris Xygalatas received a fellowship award from University of Connecticut’s Humanities Institute for the academic year 2016-17. These residential Fellowships allow scholars to pursue advanced work in the humanities. During his tenure at UCHI, Dr. Xygalatas will pursue work on the social functions of ritual.
From fire-walking to meditation, and from graduation ceremonies to wine toasting, rituals are everywhere. But what purpose do they serve? Dimitris Xygalatas combines anthropology, science, and technology to answer this question.
Congratulations to our graduate student Martin Lang, who has been awarded a summer fellowship at the Connecticut Institute for the Brain and Cognitive Sciences (IBACS)! The project entitled “Effects of predictable behavioral patterns on anxiety” will examine the mechanisms by which ritualization might soothe anxiety, and may reveal better ways of stress-management and coping with anxiety.
Jan Krátký, John J. McGraw, Dimitris Xygalatas, Panagiotis Mitkidis, Paul Reddish
Laboratory and field studies have demonstrated that exposure to cues of intentional agents in the form of eyes can increase prosocial behavior. However, previous research mostly used 2-dimensional depictions as experimental stimuli. Thus far no study has examined the influence of the spatial properties of agency cues on this prosocial effect. To investigate the role of dimensionality of agency cues on fairness, 345 participants engaged in a decision-making task in a naturalistic setting. The experimental treatment included a 3-dimensional pseudo-realistic model of a human head and a 2-dimensional picture of the same object. The control stimuli consisted of a real plant and its 2-D image. Our results partly support the findings of previous studies that cues of intentional agents increase prosocial behavior…..
Benjamin Grant Purzycki, Coren Apicella, Quentin D. Atkinson, Emma Cohen, Rita Anne McNamara, Aiyana K. Willard, Dimitris Xygalatas, Ara Norenzayan & Joseph Henrich
Since the origins of agriculture, the scale of human cooperation and societal complexity has dramatically expanded. This fact challenges standard evolutionary explanations of prosociality because well-studied mechanisms of cooperation based on genetic relatedness, reciprocity and partner choice falter as people increasingly engage in fleeting transactions with genetically unrelated strangers in large anonymous groups. To explain this rapid expansion of prosociality, researchers have proposed several mechanisms. Here we focus on one key hypothesis: cognitive representations of gods as increasingly knowledgeable and punitive, and who sanction violators of interpersonal social norms, foster and sustain the expansion of cooperation, trust and fairness towards co-religionist strangers….