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Journal Article

Alliances and Ritual Ecstasy: Human Responses to Resource Stress

Brian Hayden
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol. 26, No. 1 (Mar., 1987), pp. 81-91
DOI: 10.2307/1385842
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1385842
Page Count: 11
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Alliances and Ritual Ecstasy: Human Responses to Resource Stress
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Abstract

Archaeological models and conceptual frameworks have been relatively successful in explaining the emergence of distinctively human types of behavior. This perspective can also be used to explain the development of the human species' religious nature and its penchant for ecstatic ritual experiences. Using an archaeological perspective, it is argued that the formation of inter-band alliances were critical for survival in times of severe resource stress. In turn, these alliances depended for their effectiveness on the establishment of very strong emotional bonds between members in different bands. Ecstatic states induced by ritualized procedures and shared by members of different bands are proposed as one of the key mechanisms by which strong emotional bonds were created and maintained between bands. Ecstatic states involve the subsuming of individual identities and priorities under unifying concepts, thus enabling bands to overcome natural tendencies to exclusivity in times of stress. Moreover, this reliance on ecstatic states leads directly to transcedent concepts typical of all religions. Ecstatic religion is therefore viewed as the essential core of early human religious experience and as having become widespread and enduring because it significantly enhanced chances of survival during periods of severe resource stress by maintaining alliance connections.

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