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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM23-QC-PP1: The spiritual dimension in mourning process - Rituals as a symbolic tool after disasters

Parallel Papers Session 1
Friday 30 June 13.30pm-14.45 SAST - VENUE 1
This presentation is STREAMED: a live broadcast from the venue with no online interaction. Moderators may announce zoom 'chat' questions can be submitted. Please 'mute' your microphone in consideration of other online participants and the audio recording.

The spiritual dimension in mourning process - Rituals as a symbolic tool after disasters

Presenter: Renate Groenvold Bugge


In this paper I will focus on the development of using rituals and the acceptance of symbolic actions in relation to some of the large disasters in Norway.
This paper is based on practical experience working with individuals, families and organizations who have experienced loss under tragic circumstances. How may rituals contribute to the mourning process? May rituals also open for the spiritual dimension?
Rituals are formed as response to good or bad events. This is probably as old as humankind. Rituals are created and made in a specific connection and at a certain place. The change from passive to active participation in rituals have developed during the last years. This is obvious in Norway and in the other Nordic countries. Active participation in the rituals has a symbolic value. Which means to create some kind of meaning beyond the cognitive ability. Actions and objects are in the service of transitional moments and objects and contribute to changing the perception of the actual event and the world, a process of transformation. It represents a negotiation between the inner and outer world, and offers a reorientation between despair and hope. (Danbolt,LJ., Stifoss-Hansen,H, 2017)Rituals are often connected with religion. Religions have different symbolic rules which are connected with myths and believes. In recent time rituals are used in many different secular connections. In certain circumstance may rituals serve as a release of the heavy burden of loss and grief both on individual and society level.
The spiritual dimension is recognized by some characteristics (T. Metzinger 2010). It is not theoretical. There is no logic and proof of truth. It is not cognitive, which means to understand or have insight. The experience cannot be translated into ordinary language. It is just possible to give a hint of the experience. Historical the concept of spirituality was introduced in the 13 -14th century, but it has been a dimension in human life long, long before that.
I will present different cases from working with an organization, the Labor Party, after the terror attack in Norway in 2011. The organization used symbolic actions and signs in the process of an organization that was affected by being the target of the attack and had to deal with heavy losses. When looking back that might be understood as an acceptance of the spiritual dimension. Actions made it possible to express the deep unspeakable sorrow and gave the possibility to connect with each other and with a dimension beyond, without words.
When working with the aftermaths we had several collective gatherings. These were run as a temporarily organization. In these gatherings several symbolic actions were taken to address the unspeakable experience of dealing the loss of their beloved ones in a collective setting.
Candle lighting was used and it was as a red thread throughout all the different collective gatherings. At one specific occasion, in the room where all the belongings from the diseased were, there were no candles There was a spiritual dimension in the room where all the belongings of the dead once were taken care of, no candles, just plain and silent atmosphere, which invited for a deep sacral experience.
It seems to be of great value to include ritualizing as a response to accidents and disasters. There are two aspects of recovery both on the personal level and on society level.


Bugge,R.G.: Power in the face of vulnerability: the Norwegian experience. 2014, Brunning,H.: Power and vulnerability, Routledge

Danbolt,l.J.: Stifoss-Hanssen,H., Ritual and Recovery: Traditions in Disaster Ritualizing, Dialog ( a Journal of Theology), 2017, Volume 56, issue 4, (352-360)

Hussain,A., Weisaeth,L., Heir,T.: Changes in religious beliefs and the relation of religiosity to posttraumatic stress and life satisfication after disaster., 2011, Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2011) 46:1027–1032 DOI 10.1007/s00127-010-0270-7

Metzinger,T.: Spiritualität und intellektuelle Redlichkeit ,2010 , Berlin Verlag, Berlin ISBN 978- 3827014887

Learning Objectives

Participants will be able to:

  1. Recognise the need for rituals in chaotic situations
  2. identify the need on organizational level when disaster strikes
  3. Recognise the importance how symbols are being used on different occasions

Biographical Summary

Renate Grønvold Bugge is a qualified psychologist; she holds a graduate degree in Psychology from the University of Oslo, and has been an approved specialist in clinical psychology and work and organizational psychology. She has combined three main fields: clinical practice, consultancy work and managerial positions. This experience provides her with a unique ability to understand: The individual, groups and organizations from a comprehensive perspective, and the importance of frameworks, structures and efficient information and feedback routines in order to understand processes in an organization.
She has worked as consultant and been in charge of support after disasters. And adviser for corporate management following major accident