A look back at the collective history of humanity, through rituals and religious practices
What prompted a book like this?
I am a follower of mindfulness and yoga research, and there are hundreds of studies on them; these are performed in hospitals and therapy rooms across the country. But we realized that every day around the world hundreds of millions of people perform prayer and other types of rituals that psychology hasn’t really looked at.
The editors of the book are all scientists, and the idea was that scientists have a lot to learn from academics. Justin McDaniel, professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Penn, wrote the book’s preface and made this point clear. It was a fascinating and humbling experience to learn from each of these scholars.
Why was now the right time for this book?
Researchers and clinicians are increasingly innovative as they research interventions to improve mental health. It seemed important to me that these new ideas not only come from their creativity but also be informed by the collective history of humanity, by the interventions practiced for hundreds or thousands of years, and, in some cases , by millions of people. The idea was to learn from academics and keep these historical, scholarly and intercultural perspectives in mind when considering ways to address or improve well-being.
Would you say this book is aimed at academics or a wider audience?
It is mainly a question of informing research and clinical contexts. Personally, I am fascinated by religious scholarship. Each chapter describes the history and beliefs of many major world religions, which is interesting in itself. But I hope that researchers interested in these topics will continue to study mindfulness and yoga. and see that there are dozens of others to consider as well. What I also hope and expect is that neuroscientists and psychologists will begin to study other rituals and practices in the years to come.
That being said, if there are people like me who are inherently fascinated by various approaches to life, there is a lot to learn. Tolerance is often aided by understanding, and so we hope this book will help people better understand various religious and non-religious traditions, even rituals from their own traditions that they might not be aware of. Many Christians do not know, for example, that Christianity includes meditation practices similar to certain forms of Buddhist meditation.
Can you describe some of the other traditions described in the book?
One that is interesting is sitting shiva in the chapter of Judaism. Many people are familiar with this ritual, but seeing the meaning that community support can bring to those going through difficult experiences and struggling with grief was truly moving and profound. You can see so many psychological processes at work, especially related to community support. Sometimes in psychology we fail to recognize community factors that can promote mental health.
Another interesting one is that of Leah Comeau in the chapter on Hinduism describing the drawing of kolams, images adorned in front of her house as a form of prayer and welcome, which involves this continuous creativity and this sense of meaning and meaning. community.
There is also a description of ayahuasca ceremonies. Why is this one particularly compelling?
It’s a nice connection with what’s going on in contemporary clinical research. Johns Hopkins has just opened a Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research. There’s this really nice convergence where one of our chapters describes these rituals involving psychedelic compounds, and just last year we have a big research center now exploring these compounds for use in a clinical setting. People are looking for new creative ways more than ever before, and seeing this connection between indigenous rituals and a new center for clinical research was a mind-blowing moment for us.
Does the book cover all of the religions you hoped to cover?
This is just a first step in expanding this conversation. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of rituals and practices that are not captured. It’s just a sampling. I wish we had all of them, but if we did, it would be a really long book.