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Jay Meddin (1980)

Symbols, anxiety, and ritual: A functional interpretation

Qualitative Sociology, 3(4):251-271.

This article deals with the relationship between symbols and ritual. The thesis is advanced that the human capacity for symbol production creates disruptive problems as well as adaptive advantages and that ritual serves as one major mechanism for controlling these disruptive aspects. Symbolic awareness greatly expands an organism's psychological field, and it is argued here that this expansion in turn generates problems of information organization, extended awareness of threat and amplification of appetitive drives. These extensions of consciousness are potentially disruptive and anxiety producing to the individual and may threaten group coherence as well. We maintain that by structuring symbolic expression, ritual behavior serves the important function of delimiting the proliferative tendencies inherent in symbol production and thereby helps to control this disruptive potential.

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