How can the Seshat: Global History Databank be used to make policy recommendations for modern times? By examining key aspects of societies in the past, we can better understand the factors that lead to political turbulence, war, and the collapse of empires. Ritual is one of these key aspects.
Rituals can be dysphoric, euphoric, or a combination of both. A dysphoric ritual is painful or frightening- from the human sacrifices of the Inca Empire to modern day hazing at fraternities. Euphoric rituals are joyful and celebratory, and include feasts and festivals. Rituals are held at all levels of a polity, from collective statewide rituals to rituals of small groups like soldiers or religious cults.
One important theory about rituals that has been proposed is that dysphoric rituals produce more tribal warfare, intra-elite conflicts, rebellions, and military revolts. This is one of the central predictions about the relationship between ritual and warfare that we are currently exploring.
Seshat editor Prof. Harvey Whitehouse has supported this prediction in his recent co-authored PLOS ONE paper on modern day football clubs. Oxford University’s Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology’s Martha Newsom, Dr. Michael Buhrmester, and Whitehouse explore the idea that football fans’ feelings towards their club are shaped by key wins and losses- euphoric and dysphoric events. Because of this, fans stay loyal to losing clubs as well as winning clubs.
Whitehouse spoke to the Evening Mail on the implications of the paper. “We find that deeply unpleasant, painful shared memories can strengthen ties rather than breaking them. This has relevance for policymakers, for example, fighters in Syria experiencing the horrors of a bombing campaign may be bound together by these traumatic events.”
Seshat’s data will be used to explore the full implications of the paper’s claims, using history to draw parallels to modern day conflicts.