Topbar search

Rituals as an Indicator of Congregational Culture

One important way to examine your religious community’s culture is through its rituals. Rituals say something about who we are and what we hold dear, pointing to deeper meanings. In religious communities, these religious rituals outline how a deity is worshiped.

Examine how individuals pray to understand more about the relationship with God. Listen to how God is addressed, or what sorts of requests are made. What sorts of things is God thanked for? Moreover, what is the feeling behind these prayers? Is it solemn or joyful? Is it quiet or boisterous? Is it comforting or convicting? Or some combination of all? Interview informants on these issues, carefully asking what they experience and how they understand the experience during worship.

Types of Rites

Some rituals focus on the group. Rites of Intensification help to intensify the group’s commitment to shared values and beliefs. These types of rites can be times when the group joins together to celebrate its core values. For Christians, it might be times like Christmas, Easter, or Lent. For Muslims, fasting during Ramadan would be an example of a rite of intensification.

Some rituals focus on individual’s lives in relation to the group. Rites of Passage are rituals that act as times of transition from one status to another. Baptisms, bar or bat mitzvahs, communion, confirmation, ordination, marriage, and death are all examples of rites of passage that are often celebrated within a religious context.

What sorts of rites of intensification and rites of passage does your religious community participate in? How regularly are these rites celebrated? How does the celebration of these rituals change or enhance the community?

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org