The Power of Ritual Book Summary - The Power of Ritual Book explained in key points
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The Power of Ritual summary

Casper ter Kuile

Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices

4.4 (109 ratings)
25 mins
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    The Power of Ritual
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    Society is growing increasingly secular.

    For most people, filling out a census form is pretty straightforward. After all, it’s not hard to remember your own birthday. Or write down your address. Or your job. 

    But there’s one section that can be a bit more problematic: religion.

    What box do you tick if one of your parents is Jewish and the other Hindu? If you were raised going to Sunday School but haven’t set foot in a church for over a decade, should you still put a check in the box labeled Catholic? And where’s the box for people who were rejected by their religion because of their gender expression or sexual orientation?

    The key message here is: Society is growing increasingly secular.

    According to 2019 census data, 26 percent of US Americans see themselves as either agnostic or atheist. Among younger generations, the shift away from organized religion is even more pronounced. Forty percent of US millennials state they don’t adhere to any specific religion. 

    As a society, we simply appear to be less interested in religion than ever before. But while churches, synagogues, temples, and the like impart religious instruction, that’s not all they offer. Traditionally, religious institutions build community around shared values. Their rituals mark significant transitional life events, like births, marriages, and deaths. They are also places where people can get shelter, counsel, and support.

    And while many of us have decided we don’t need religion, we do need community, ritual, and meaning. In fact, we might need these things now more than ever.

    In the Western world, social isolation is at epidemic proportions. We’re more likely to live alone, rather than in a multi-generational household. We’re more likely to live far away from relatives, rather than down the road from the house we grew up in. We’re more likely to move regularly, rather than settle in a neighborhood long-term. 

    And this is cause for alarm because loneliness is detrimental to health. Research shows it can lead to addiction, violence, depression, anxiety, and suicide. In an analysis of over 80 studies, American Psychologist concluded that social isolation is more harmful than obesity or a 15-cigarettes-a-day habit. 

    When previous generations felt isolated or adrift, they turned to religious institutions. 

    Now, we are faced with the challenge – and the opportunity – of creating new modes of building community, cultivating spirituality, and practicing ritual. 

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    What is The Power of Ritual about?

    The Power of Ritual (2020) is a guide to finding spiritual fulfillment, and even transcendence, in a secular life. Divinity scholar Casper ter Kuile convincingly argues that it’s possible to turn away from institutionalized religion while still preserving the sacred practices that build community, give space for reflection, and welcome in joy.

    Who should read The Power of Ritual?

    • Atheists and agnostics who want to reclaim their spiritual side;
    • Believers and ex-believers who’ve been disappointed by their religious institutions;
    • Anyone who feels isolated and disconnected from the world around them.

    About the Author

    Casper ter Kuile is a fellow at Harvard’s Divinity School, the cohost of popular podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, and the cofounder of the Sacred Design Lab. Kuile is committed to translating sacred values that cultivate community, belonging, and joy into a secular framework.

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