Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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Anxiety created by religious rituals or belief. Secondary anxiety is defined in relation to primary anxiety, the naturally occurring apprehensions that are often relieved by a religious ritual. Homans (1941:171) described secondary anxiety as follows:

When a man has followed the technical procedures at his command and performed the traditional rituals at his command, his primary anxiety remains latent. We say that the rites give him confidence. Under these circumstances, he will feel anxiety only when the rites themselves are not properly performed. In fact this attitude becomes generalized and anxiety is felt whenever any one of the traditions of society is not observed. This anxiety may be called secondary or displaced anxiety.

Secondary anxiety also may result from the fact that religious rituals remind individuals of the link between moral behavior and physical/spiritual well-being. Nature and morality are thought to be mutually dependent, and unintentional transgressions may be punished.

James McClenon


G. Homans, "Anxiety and Ritual," American Anthropologist 43(1941):164-172

K. A. Roberts, Religion in Sociological Perspective (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1995).

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