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Opinion: Rituals can guide us in our post-pandemic worlds

Austin American Citizen

Originally Posted: May 29, 2021

Jill DeTemple, religious studies professor at SMU Dallas, for a piece advocating how rituals can help individuals and communities navigate their post-pandemic worlds. Published in the Austin American-Statesman with the heading Rituals can guide us in our post-pandemic worlds:

About a week ago, at the top of the stairs in the three-story building where I work on the SMU campus, two women were in lively conversation as they worked to remove markers and yards of tape laid down to keep us safely apart in the pandemic.

They scraped and scrubbed, and at the end of the day the blue line dividing our staircase and hallways, the directional arrows and X’s meant to prohibit sitting too closely to another, were gone. Despite their efforts, however, the sticky residue from the tape remains.  Looking down at the stripe still dividing our stairs neatly into two parts, darker than its surrounding material, I was struck by the analogy it offered.  As we think about emerging from lockdowns, hugely altered work lives, social distancing, hundreds of thousands of lives lost and irrevocably altered by COVID 19, and seemingly unshakeable social divides — we cannot simply “go back to normal.”  Even if we try to wash the experience away, stubborn stickiness remains.

How we handle that stickiness matters.  As part of my work as a professor of religious studies, I often teach about rituals. Most religious traditions utilize rituals to create common experiences and meaning for communities. The loss of those experiences has been one of the most painful parts of the pandemic as people canceled or postponed baptisms, baby namings, Eid celebrations, weddings, and funerals. History also teaches us that in times of social upheaval, including pandemics, ritual responses can take desperate and troublesome forms: ghost dancing, cargo cults, crusades, sacrifice, mass suicide. READ MORE