How Do Myth and Ritual Infuse Religion With Meaning?

Myth and Ritual Explained

The grounding (foundational) story of a religion is known as a “myth”With the grounding story in place (for example, the cosmic Christ), rituals then reinforce and proclaim it.

The myth explains the ritual, and the ritual enacts the story: actions are performed, or calendar dates marked, because the gods did this, or because the savior figure first performed it.

By reenacting the events of a myth, rituals connect members of a group to the defining moments of the movement, and so give meaning to time. By looking at the myths and rituals of a particular group within their broader context, the group’s story and practice are both seen to draw from and set up worldviews that can either reinforce the prevailing culture or set up alternatives to it.

Common Ritual Practices 

Public sacrifice was the most visible ritual performed in ancient times for what we today call both “religious” and social/civic purposes. Individuals also engaged in private rituals that both reflected their beliefs and sought to influence transcendent powers.

Ritualized dietary behaviors are common in religions cross-culturally. The same is true of calendars that divide time into sacred and profane.

For many, the performance of ritual provides a means of making the profane sacred, of connecting to the divine, of securing blessings, transformation and protection, and of reinforcing group membership. A ritualized performance can, of course, turn from a meaningful action into an obsession or a rote behavior.

New Testament: Methods and Meanings
The New Testament: Methods and Meanings
Warren Carter and Amy-Jill Levine
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Warren Carter
Warren Carter

Warren Carter is professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas. Carter specializes in the Gospel of Matthew, as well as the Greek New Testament in general.

Carter has a Ph.D. (New Testament), from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a B.D., Th.M., from Melbourne College of Divinity, Australia. He was born was in New Zealand.

Carter is an ordained United Methodist Elder.

Books written by Warren Carter include:


Amy-Jill Levine
Amy-Jill Levine
born 1956

Amy-Jill Levine is E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Department of Religious Studies, and Graduate Department of Religion.

Levine is a self-described “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Protestant divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt.” She also “combines historical-critical rigor, literary-critical sensitivity, and a frequent dash of humor with a commitment to eliminating antisemitic, sexist, and homophobic theologies.”

Levine is a member of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue.

Books written by Amy-Jill Levine include:

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