Publication details

Does culture change understanding of kneeling display in religious ritual?

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Year of publication 2019
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Objective: Some cultures consider kneeling posture the most salient bodily expression connected to religious ritual practice. Closed and lowered postures observed across animal kingdom are generally associated and perceived as expressing submission and subordinance. Some cultural and religious explanations of the use of kneeling in religious rituals however put an emphasis on moral aspect of such signal, seeing it rather as an expression of shame and atonement. Therefore, long exposure to such explicit explanations of the display may have shifted the understanding of the associated affective state from submission to shame and these postures might emphasize conformity with moral norms over power asymmetry (usually between superhuman agents and human participants). Methods: Using the free-list technique, I compared two distinct cultural and four religious models of understanding of the kneeling posture. The two studied cultures are Czech and Mauritian, providing a significant contrast: the inhabitants of historically Christian, now highly atheistic Czech Republic compared with Mauritians living in considerable ethnic, religious and cultural diversity in one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The Mauritian population affiliates (among others) to Hindu, Christian or Muslim religious traditions. Results: Kneeling is seen mostly as conveying respect and submission cross-culturally. Although moral aspects are mentioned in several instances, neither cultural origin, nor religious affiliation predict their occurrence. The emphasis on submission is significantly lower for all religious affiliations (compared to atheists). Conclusions: The results do not support the predicted shift from submission to shame in understanding of kneeling displays in religious rituals. There is however an observable difference in emphasis on submission in explanations by religiously affiliated. This suggests that there might be other explanatory framework differing from the official theological explanations, which stresses other explanations for the use of kneeling, such as efficiency boost of a prayer or a plea.
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