You go to a special place at a special time.
Organ music is playing.
Family members sit in rows, dressed smartly.
People in robes process in.
There is standing up and sitting down.
Symbolic objects and costumes are in evidence.
Special words are spoken, which change the identity of the participants for all time (as long as they and others believe in what is said.)
The event comes to an end, and everyone spills out into the sunlight, blinking and reaching for cameras.
This could describe a wedding, a baptism, or a graduation ceremony. Sitting in the audience of the Edge Hill ceremony (a splendid event) yesterday I mused on whether this ritual is as secular as it seems. Obviously it isn’t attached to a particular religion (though the graduation events of some institutions are, to a greater or lesser extent). Nevertheless, an observer might see some structural similarities between the use of space, time, ritual and speech-acts in degree ceremonies and sacred or spiritual events. There was no mention of God but plenty of appeals to, and invocations of, large, transpersonal, intangible concepts – the future, achievement, success, society, development.
Perhaps these events are a kind of secular spirituality?