Religious Rituals Promote Health

But is it the religious part, the ritual part or something else?

Published in
9 min readNov 14, 2021


In my series on the relationship between religion and health, I explored which aspects of religion are responsible for its possible health benefits. Recent studies have found that religion, per se, isn’t the feature that promotes health. Rather, it’s strength or certainty of beliefs, which transcends religion since people have beliefs about many other things besides religion. One of the reasons that strength of beliefs improves health measures is the placebo effect, which I wrote about in my previous article, It’s Not Religion That Promotes Health. It’s Certainty of Beliefs. (See links at end.)

In addition, a different group of behaviors besides placebo and certainty of beliefs — religious rituals — evolved to enhance well-being. Religious rituals are the behaviors of religion. There is general concurrence that rituals such as sacrifice, rites of passage (including funerary rituals), and ceremonial festivals are found in all cultures.

These rituals first arose anywhere from 40,000 to over 100,000 years ago in hunter-gatherer societies and perhaps far earlier. Besides the universality and pervasiveness of religious ritual and its prehistoric emergence, religious rituals are time and resource expensive without obvious benefit. They…



Author of Darwin’s Apple: The Evolutionary Biology of Religion, a new take on the function and purpose of religion.