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Long-Term, Explicit Memory in Rituals

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This article reconsiders the problem of memorization in rituals in light of recent empirical work in memory research. Four hypotheses are put forward in particular: (1) Emotionally laden details will enhance the formation of memories about any detail of the ritual; (2) harsh sensory stimuli will function as attention-magnets, resulting in increased memorization of the stimuli at the cost of remembering other elements of the ritual; (3) the self-relatedness of a ritual will enhance the formation of memories about the ritual, although the positive effect might be limited to details that are self-related; and (4) stress can be understood to function as a “zoom,” limiting the range of details remembered. The effects of stress will be modulated by gender differences and the timing of the ritual within the circadian cycle. The consequences of the four hypotheses are compared with the predictions of the Modes Theory and the Ritual Form Theory.

Affiliations: 1: Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies Fabianinkatu 24, 00014 University of Helsinki Helsinki Finland Department of Theology, Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg Heidelberg Germany, Email:


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