The biosocial basis of collective effervescence

An experimental anthropological study of a fire-walking ritual


  • Dimitris Xygalatas Aarhus University



effervescence, fieldwork, laboratory, experimental anthropology, fire-walking, Spain


Collective rituals have long been assumed to play a role in increasing social assimilation and forging emotional bonds between group members. Émile Durkheim described a feeling of belonging and emotional alignment produced by ritual participation, which he called “collective effervescence”. Although this notion has informed generations of anthropologists, it has been notoriously difficult to quantify, while little is known about the physiological mechanisms underlying this effect. In a recent field study, we used physiological measurements alongside traditional ethnographic methods to operationalize and quantify this notion. I discuss the implications of these findings and the use of laboratory methods in field research.


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Author Biography

  • Dimitris Xygalatas, Aarhus University

    Dimitris Xygalatas is Director of the LEVYNA Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion in Brno. He holds a joint position between the Department for the Study of Religion at Masaryk University and the Department of Culture and Society at Aarhus University. He received his PhD from the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queens University Belfast and has held postdoctoral positions at Princeton University and the MINDLab, Aarhus University. His main areas of interest are experimental anthropology and the experimental study of religion, and much of his work has focused on the practice of extreme rituals around the world. He has conducted several years of ethnographic research in Greece, Bulgaria, Spain, and Mauritius and has pioneered new methods, integrating ethnographic and experimental approaches in field research.


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How to Cite

Xygalatas, D. (2015). The biosocial basis of collective effervescence: An experimental anthropological study of a fire-walking ritual. Fieldwork in Religion, 9(1), 53-67.