Ritual is a repeated practice that a given culture deems significant, either implicitly or explicitly. It typically has the effect of binding the community that practices it together and of reinforcing certain governance habits.

Input: community, culture, artful norm formation

Output: self-reinforcing common habits


Ritual is among the “human universals” that anthropologist Donald Brown argues can be found in every human society. It is a phenomenon frequently associated with religion, but it is by no means religion’s exclusive purview. Rituals appear widely in childrearing, sports, the arts, and political life.

Feedback loops


  • Establishes and protects norms at lower cost of effort than other enforcement mechanisms, such as judicial sanctions
  • Connects and embeds governance processes organically into broader cultural systems


  • Imposes expectations and habits that can be hard to change when change is necessary
  • Can defy rational explanation and thus reduce the rationality of the governance system as a whole



  • Beating the bounds, an ancient practice of collectively surveying community boundaries
  • Courtroom practices of respect and costume for judges
  • Inauguration ceremonies for public officials


Further resources

  • “[Rituals],” Wikimedia Commons
  • Smith, Jonathan Z. To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual. University of Chicago Press, 1987.