Queen’s passing shows role of rituals

Once deceased, her son, King Charles III, immediately replaced her. Though it might seem surprising that people in crowds outside Buckingham Palace would immediately proclaim, “God save the King,” doing so for them is an expression of continuity.



September 15, 2022 - 2:45 PM

Crowds gathered to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II outside Buckingham Palace. (Nick Robertson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Since the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 8, the power of ritual has been front and center. It’s been moving to witness, and even some people who are skeptical of the monarchy — including Americans — have reacted strongly. Why?

For sociologists like me, the answer has to do with the fundamentals of how human communities persist. For any group, death is an existential threat. All of us are invested in other people and their places in our communities and social order. When leaders die, we need to find a way to go on without them.

Emile Durkheim — a founding figure in sociology and anthropology — famously pointed out that rituals have the power to produce emotions, remind us of our obligations and ties to one another, and make intangibles tangible, including in unexpected ways. Think of the people who cry at weddings, surprising even themselves.

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