In a new study, Dimitris Xygalatas (along with colleagues from New Zealand, the Czech Republic, and Denmark) found evidence that extreme religious rituals can stimulate increased generosity. The authors explain:
We examined two rituals that were part of the annual Hindu festival of Thaipusam, one of the most widely celebrated religious festivals the world over: a low-ordeal ritual involving singing and collective prayer (top picture) and a high-ordeal ritual (Kavadi; bottom picture) involving body piercing with multiple needles and skewers, carrying heavy bamboo structures, and dragging carts attached by hooks to the skin for over 4 hr before climbing a mountain barefooted to reach the temple of Murugan.Along with the people who actually took part in the two different kinds of rituals, they also studied a group of Kavadi observers (nonperforming participants who walked alongside performers, are often related to them and have themselves previously taken part in he ritual).
After the event, all the participants and observers were given a questionnaire, and also given the opportunity to make an anonymous donation to the temple.
They found that those who had taken part in the extreme ritual, as well as those who had observed it, donated more to the temple (as shown in the chart, which shows the average amount of donation in Mauritian rupees).
And it seems the painfulness of the ordeal was an important factor - the more pain the worshipper reported, the higher the donations. That went for the observers, as well as the active participants!
Intriguingly, the high-ordeal participants also had a more inclusive social identity. They were more likely to say that they felt themselves to be Mauritian, rather than Hindu.