Penn doctoral student David Yaden practices mindfulness, a simple habit he uses to re-center himself after stressful situations. It’s also one that’s backed by science, having been analyzed and written about for decades. The same is true for yoga, another intervention borne out of a religious practice that has become mainstream.
As part of his work with Martin Seligman in Penn’s Positive Psychology Center, Yaden began thinking about where typical psychological interventions derive. “Generally, they’re from researchers who think them up and test them from theory,” he says. Instead, “why don’t we look back into humanity’s collective history at the rituals and practices that people have been doing for hundreds or thousands of years?”
The result of that reframing is “Rituals and Practices in World Religions,” a new book Yaden co-edited with Yukun Zhao of China’s Tsinghua University, Kaiping Peng of the University of California, Berkeley, and Andrew Newberg of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
Taking a page from the playbook of James Pawelski of Penn’s Positive Psychology Center, who has been forging conversations between scholars and scientists, Yaden and colleagues turned to experts on the religions of the world, asking them to highlight individual practices and group-based rituals they felt were important. “We left it to scholars,” Yaden explains. “We told them, ‘Mindfulness and yoga are being studied by scientists. What are we missing from other world religions? What are rituals and practices that are somewhat similar but should receive more attention?’”
For the book, 15 academics wrote about 13 religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, Baha’i and Humanism. Each chapter provides a brief overview and then delves into specific practices. Yaden describes the impetus for the book, plus why now is the right time for it.
David Yaden is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. His new book, “Rituals and Practices in World Religions: Cross-Cultural Scholarship to Inform Research and Clinical Contexts,” was published by Springer in January.