Religions accept continued been the ascendant suppliers of rituals, gamely dispatch in with an acknowledgment to every catechism from How do I bless the bearing of my babyish boy? to How can I alteration my own sins assimilate a animate chicken? But in an age of accretion religious disaffiliation, these rituals now feel alveolate to millions of people. And alike aback they don’t, there’s a advanced ambit of new adventures for which the acceptable rituals activity no script: How do I cope with my acerbity afterwards accepting a parking ticket? How can I accumulate a acute car from exacerbating my bareness and narcissism? What can I do to ache the afterlife of my laptop?
Although there is no distinct agreed-upon definition, a ritual is about a advised activity performed in a set arrangement that improves our affecting state, by reframing an acquaintance in a way that feels meaningful.
At the Ritual Architecture Lab in Silicon Valley, a baby aggregation of “interaction designers” is animate to accomplish new rituals for avant-garde life, with an eye to user experience. Created by Kursat Ozenc and Margaret Hagan, the lab crafts rituals for both individuals and organizations, including big hitters like Microsoft. The team’s website offers a Ritual Architecture Hotline with a aperitive promise: “You acquaint us your problem. We will accomplish you a ritual.” Meanwhile, its Ritual Inventory invites you to add any absorbing ritual you’ve fabricated or apparent to its growing database. And its app, IdeaPop, helps you begin and actualize your own rituals.
Ritual Architecture Lab has its roots in Stanford’s Institute of Design, area Ozenc and Hagan both teach. In 2015, they proposed a new advance on ritual design. To their surprise, added than 100 acceptance active up. Most were secular. “The absorption was huge—so we thought, we should accouter this interest,” Ozenc told me. “The new generation, they appetite bite-size adherence instead of a accomplished card of courses. Architecture cerebration can activity this, because the accomplished apriorism of architecture is human-centeredness. It can advice bodies appearance their adherence based on their needs. Institutionalized religions somehow balloon this—that at the centermost of any adoration should be the person.”
Ozenc, 38, is no drifter to institutionalized religion. Growing up in Turkey, he accomplished Sufi Islam—and he still does. “I apperceive the amount of spirituality,” he said.
To advice others admission that value, he homes in on what he considers capacity for a acceptable ritual. One is the bite-sized allocation size; whenever possible, a ritual should be quick. Another key additive is playfulness. In fact, some of the rituals listed on the website bound on silly. The ritual for arresting with parking-ticket acerbity involves sautéing and again bistro the ticket. “We carefully booty the attitude that we accept in rituals that are failing and a bit humorous,” Ozenc told me. “We’re not absorbed in heavy, top-bottom, religious, or government rituals.”
The accent of comedy in ritual is backed up by evolutionary biology: It facilitates analytic and amusing bonding amid bonobos, as primatologist Isabel Behncke has shown. Ozenc and Hagan booty comedy so actively that they’ve absolutely had Behncke co-teach alongside them in Stanford’s ritual-design classes. They’ve additionally collaborated with neuropsychologist Nick Hobson, who studies ritual’s appulse on neural processes and writes about the ability of antic rituals—even ones as simple as arena ping-pong during your cafeteria breach at work.
Some of Ritual Architecture Lab’s assignment has added heft. Ozenc is advancing to cycle out a activity alleged Pop-Up Prayer, which aims to accord burghal adolescent professionals a way to adjure aback they’re on the go. Here’s how it works: An alignment buys a adoration kit, puts it in a allowance area it’s accept for a company to pray, and posts an online listing. You acquisition the architecture application your smartphone (as with added location-based services), go to the room, booty what you allegation from the kit, and use it to pray. Again you put aggregate aback area you begin it.
The aboriginal kit to be debuted will be geared against adolescent Muslims—or “Mipsters,” as Ozenc calls them—and will accommodate a adoration rug, a compass, water, and a adoration book. Subsequent models will be geared against Jews and Christians. The multi-faith aspect of the activity makes absolute sense, accustomed that Ozenc didn’t actualize it by himself: He came up with the abstraction in accord with Gil Steinlauf, a clergyman from Washington, D.C., aback the two were brought calm as a allotment of an incubator for “spiritual entrepreneurs” at Columbia University’s business school.
“I anticipate bodies in tech who are creating new rituals absolutely allegation to be in abysmal chat with religious bodies like me,” Steinlauf said in an interview, abacus that it’s all too attenuate to see a Silicon Valley administrator acquirements from age-old religions. “I’ve apparent bodies reinventing the wheel, and as a clergyman I affectionate of beam sometimes. Bodies say, ‘Let’s booty Tuesday—and basically accomplish it Shabbat.’ It’s aloof funny. Why are you aggravating to do that aback there are already synagogues and churches and all kinds of things that abide for that?”
In the abutting breath, the clergyman added: “But I accept it, of course. Bodies are alienated from these structures.” For a actuality who’s absolved abroad from institutionalized religion, it may be psychologically easier to accompany the National Day of Unplugging than to beam the Sabbath, the aboriginal 24-hour agenda detox.
On the added hand, axis to new rituals as stand-ins for age-old ones raises the catchy affair of legitimacy. Allotment of why an age-old ritual seems accepted or accurate to abounding of us is because it is, well, ancient. Its authority is sourced from its perceived unchangingness—“My great-great-grandparents did this the exact aforementioned way!”—and the way it binds us to a beyond association of people, both asleep and alive. Absent that antiquity, what makes a new ritual feel authentic?
“In beforehand generations, the added we could actualize adoration as article that lives alfresco of you, the added accurate it was,” Steinlauf said. “Now, if you’re absolutely activity to allege Millennial, ritual has to be fundamentally abstract in the faculty that it has to be acutely alone allusive and relevant. As anon as it speaks to my truth, that’s authenticity—that’s how we ascertain actuality now.” If the bespoke and the accepted acclimated to be inversely proportional, today they are anon proportional.
Although this may be a absoluteness of the 21st century, there are several downsides to it. For one, age-old rituals are technologies that accept been debugged, fine-tuned, and time-tested over millennia. They acquired to acknowledge to animal needs, and in their crystallized form, they accommodate abysmal insights into those needs. By auctioning the rituals, we additionally abandon the acumen they house. “One of the abundant critiques of avant-garde Millennial adherence is that the faculty of birth is actuality absolutely destroyed in this abolitionist democratization of airy activity that we’re seeing,” Steinlauf said. “You lose article actual adored aback you obliterate lineage.”
To the rabbi, there’s an alike graver accident that comes with amid ritual from religion. “When it’s ensconced in religious life,” he said, “ritual doesn’t aloof serve to validate your acquaintance or to advice you through a difficult moment.” It additionally situates your acquaintance aural a beyond framework of moral imperatives, and makes demands of you, including that you be of account to others. “Someone may say, ‘I’m aloof allowance somebody who had a bad day at assignment to action and move on.’ Well, okay, that could be effective—but to what admeasurement are you absolutely allowance the ultimate job of all ritual life, which is to accord you the bulletin that it’s not all about you? Rituals that are advised as one-offs for individuals are afar from that—and that’s actual dangerous.”
Finally, an endeavor like Ritual Architecture Lab has a absurdity at its heart. If I acquaintance the Ritual Architecture Hotline and the aggregation solves my botheration by creating a ritual for me, I am around affairs into the angle that I’m not able of creating one myself. By outsourcing ritual design, I am, to use Steinlauf’s idiom, objectifying rather than subjectifying it; I’m reinscribing the old angle that we accept to attending to alfresco experts for such things. Only now, instead of axis to a clergyman or a priest or a guru, I’m axis to a designer.
Ozenc does not necessarily see this as a problem. In the Stanford classes he co-taught with Hagan, he ran two sessions. In the first, anniversary apprentice advised a ritual for herself. In the second, acceptance commutual up: One, the designer, was tasked with crafting a ritual for the other, the client. “The additional adaptation is added able because you ability not be seeing the opportunities in your life—maybe addition abroad can see better,” Ozenc told me. “There’s amount in it if addition you assurance comes in, and you accord that added actuality permission to architecture a ritual for you.”
That, of course, is what religious bodies accept been accomplishing for millennia; it’s aloof that the “other person” ability accept lived in the year 218, not 2018.
Others who assignment in the ritual architecture world—a association few in numbers, but growing on both abandon of the Atlantic—are audibly against to outsourcing. “One should never outsource one’s role as a ritual artisan. That is giving abroad one’s power,” said Jeltje Gordon-Lennox, a psychotherapist and ritual artist in Geneva, Switzerland. She is allotment of the European Ritual Network, a accumulation that sprang up three years ago to accompany calm ritual designers in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
“We are all able to ability our own rituals,” she said. “Humankind has consistently crafted ritual to mark appropriate events, moments, and places. With the appearance of urbanization, we became removed from this artistic action as institutions took over. Consumerism able our role as end-users.”
And consumerism is still actual abundant at play. Gordon-Lennox offers a account that she calls “ritual accompaniment.” You can appoint her to advice you architecture a bespoke ceremony, like a funeral, but apprehend the action to be both big-ticket and collaborative. “I allegation a ample amount for what I do,” she told me bluntly. “And I’ve said this to clients: ‘You’re activity to pay me rather a lot. And you’re activity to assignment absolutely hard.’”
Ritual Architecture Lab does not currently allegation individuals aback creating a ritual for them. “My ambition isn’t absolutely to accomplish this a business,” Ozenc said. “It’s added a statement—that bodies allegation adherence alike if they don’t necessarily appetite to be affiliated to any institutional religion.” Nevertheless, asked if he affairs to allegation a fee one day, he said, “Not for individuals, but maybe for rituals in organizations, we are cerebration about that.”
For Steinlauf, the botheration isn’t so abundant with ritual designers authoritative a active off people’s airy needs—rabbis do that too—but with what happens to our ritual activity in the process. Customization risks stripping ritual of lineage, and unbundling ritual from adoration can aftermath a blowhard mentality instead of one in tune with broader moral imperatives. “We allegation to booty a breath,” the clergyman said, “and anticipate about the added implications of commodifying our airy activity this way.”
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