Life's rhythms & rituals

13 Dec - 22 Dec

Since ancient times, the winter solstice has been a significant time of year for many cultures, marked by festivals and rituals. Winter traditions vary widely but as human beings, we seek out light. It provides us with solace and warmth, and the Sun's energy enables life on Earth. Is this why many holidays are celebrated with lights as part of their traditions and rituals?

In this Series you will learn:

  • The history of the winter festivals, their link to traditional beliefs about the birth or rebirth of the Sun, and their connection with the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year

  • The power of rituals in creating social identities and shared histories

  • How rituals create a paradox with people subscribing to the importance of the rituals, without being able to explain why

  • Where ghost stories come from and why winter is a constant feature in them

  • What celebrations of light tell us about our fear of the dark

In this collection of talks, we will explore the traditions and rituals that play a role in the rhythms of our lives and years, and the role they play in our understanding of the world. We will examine celebrations and traditions that light up the darkest months of the year and their cross-cultural connections that bring the past into the everyday.

View talks lineup
Dates13 Dec - 22 Dec
Talks structure30 minute lecture20 minute Q&A
"In this series our fellows will take you on a journey discovering ghosts, rituals and celebrations from across the world to discover how our behaviours and traditions are influenced by life's rhythms and rituals."USHMA VYAS - SERIES PRODUCER

3 talks in this Garden Series



Philosophy & Religion
Society & Politics
Can rituals change the world?

Tue, 13 Dec 2022 7:30 pm UTC


Do you ever pray, raise a glass to make a toast, attend weddings or birthday parties? Rituals come in many different forms and are practiced by all cultures around the world. But why are they so important to us? Read more

Professor Dimitris Xygalatas

Professor Xygalatas is an anthropologist and cognitive scientist at the University of Connecticut, where he directs the Experimental Anthropology Lab.

He studies some of the things that make us human—but not the obvious ones. He says he is mostly interested in those things that may appear puzzling or pointless, but fill our lives with meaning and purpose.

Professor Xygalatas has spent two decades studying ritual, conducting several years of ethnographic research and bringing scientific measurements into real-life settings.

He is the President of the International Association for the Cognitive Science of Religion.

He held positions at the universities of Princeton, Aarhus, and Masaryk, where he served as Director of the Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion (LEVYNA).

He is also a celebrated author, his latest book is on the topic "Ritual: How Seemingly Senseless Acts Make Life Worth Living."

Read more



Literature & Language
Why do we tell winter ghost stories?

Tue, 20 Dec 2022 7:30 pm UTC


It's well known that ghosts have long been associated with winter cold since ancient times​. The idea of something scary lurking beyond the light and laughter have inspired many chilling stories, but where does this custom or ritual come from? Read more

Dr Lucy Arnold

Dr Lucy Arnold is a specialist in contemporary literature, with particular research interests in contemporary gothic, narratives of haunting, contemporary women’s writing and psychoanalytic criticism.

Her teaching experience spans a wide range of periods and genres but focusses on twentieth and twenty-first century literature.

She has published extensively on the significance of ghosts and spectrality in the work of Hilary Mantel, whose work was the basis of her doctoral thesis and first book Reading Hilary Mantel: Haunted Decades,

Lucy has always been fascinated by ghosts and what their appearances in literature and culture might tell us about what is forgotten, hidden or marginalised within our societies.

Read more



Society & Politics
Why do lights connect winter traditions across cultures?

Thu, 22 Dec 2022 7:30 pm UTC


What images do you conjure up in your mind when you think of winter? What is it about wintertime that brings people, rituals and remembrance together? Read more

Pardis Mahdavi

Pardis Mahdavi, PhD is the Provost and Executive Vice President at the University of Montana. Previously, she was Professor and Dean of Social Sciences at Arizona State University. Her research interests include gendered labor, human trafficking, migration, sexuality, human rights, transnational feminism, and public health in the context of changing global and political structures. She has published six single authored books and one edited volume in addition to numerous journal and news articles. She is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has been a fellow at the Social Sciences Research Council, the American Council on Learned Societies, Google Ideas, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

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Series booklist

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