Collective Effervescence

My first year at Iowa State I went to an opening showing of the movie Mortal Kombat with several of my dorm mates. The experience was so amazing, that I talked several into going the next night as well. Compared with the first night, the second was awful. What I came to learn was that I had experienced a form of collective effervescence during the first showing, with all of us college kids and the packed theater unifying, and playing off of the movie to form an electricity in the air that had bonded us. It had very little, if anything, to do with the movie. We found that out the hard way the second night.

This term was introduced by Émile Durkheim in Elementary Forms of Religious Life, and it was brought to my attention through Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. During these times of isolation, loneliness has become more of an issue than in the past as seeking out these opportunities to feel collective effervescence has disappeared. Having these opportunities is crucial to our health and happiness. Indeed, depriving ourselves of these feelings is on a par with picking up a smoking habit: it can take years off our lives.

When people go to theaters, sporting events, concerts, or to church, they will remember the experience best when those feelings of collective effervescence arise. This is one of many elements that keeps me going back to jiu jitsu. When we all come together to communicate along the same way of thinking and perform our art all in similar fashion, it electrifies us. How we are different politically, religiously, or philosophically doesn’t matter in those moments. How can we better seek out or create such moments of collective effervescence?

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