"Collective Effervescence" is Good for Society.
Anyone who’s spent ample time with me in the past dozen years has heard me proselytize about sociologist Emile Durkheim’s term “collective effervescence,” based upon what he observed at religious pilgrimages more than a century ago. As a Board member of Burning Man, I often spoke about the magic that occurs when people’s sense of ego separation dissolves and is replaced by a communal sense of joy.
But, as I studied the world’s festivals a decade ago (we created a website dedicated to the 300 best festivals), I occasionally felt shamed by folks who said this kind of collective frivolity was just a silly form of hedonism. Even though I trotted out scholarly books like Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Dancing in the Streets,” I felt ill-equipped to influence the doubters. Of course, years later, I co-founded MEA, which has workshops full of collective effervescence. I suppose the same doubters might call this “navel-gazing.”
However, now I have come armed. I have additional intellectual ballast to prove that transformative gatherings may lead to enduring changes in one’s moral orientation. This new study published in the Nature Communications journal shows these gatherings create prosocial behavior long after people have left the Burning Man Playa in the Nevada desert or the Baja Playa at MEA. The universal connectedness they experience at the gathering influences how people behave toward others for months and years to come. Generosity became a more foundational part of their life after they returned.
Seeking communal joy or exploring one’s purpose amongst like-minded folks isn’t necessarily a selfish act. It might be your way of refueling yourself to make an even more significant difference in the world or be a more emotionally aware family member at home. I’ll say it again; collective effervescence” is good for society.