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Rituals comprise formalised, usually repeatable and ceremonial actions, often expressing some (allegedly) fundamental truth or meaning. The word ritual, when used as an adjective, relates to the noun 'rite', as in rite of passage.

Table of contents
1 Religion
2 Sociology
3 Psychology


A ritual can comprise a prescribed form of performing worship in a particular religion or religious denomination. Rituals can express a part of a larger social doctrine, or of a personal one.

Although ritual is often used in context with worship performed in a church, the actual relationship between any religion's doctrine and its ritual(s) can vary considerably from religion to religion. Ritual often has a close connection with reverence, thus a ritual in many cases expresses reverence for a deity.

Religious rituals have also included human sacrifice and other forms of ritual murder.


Outside worship and reverence, rituals can have a more basic sociological function in expressing, inculcating and re-inforcing the shared values and beliefs of a society. Rituals range from the grand and ceremonial (such as royal coronations) to the trite and everyday (such as the outbursts of hand-shaking which may occur when people meet).

Rituals have formed a part of human culture for tens of thousands of years. The earliest known evidence of burial rituals dates from around 20,000 years ago. (Older skeletons show no signs of deliberate 'burial', and as such lack ritual.)


In psychology, the term ritual sometimes refers to a specific action or series of actions that a person performs in a given context which otherwise has no apparent reason or purpose. The term may refer especially to compulsive behaviors of people afflicted with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

See also: religion, ceremony, habit, rite, Rite of Spring