How Casper ter Kuile Creates Meaning Through Ritual and Wrote the Book on It

When Kristen Geil, Chief Content Officer at aSweatLife, Recommended The Power of Ritual by Casper ter Kuile, I grabbed onto the title. Ritual was exactly what I was missing in my pandemic life. Sure, I was doing a lot of the same things each day, but I wasn’t doing them with the attention, intention and repetition that make a ritual.

And Kristen has never pointed me towards a book that wasn’t worth my time.

What I didn’t realize before I was pouring over the pages of ter Kuile’s book (in a nightly bath/book ritual, thank you very much) was how much his writing style would make me want to be his friend. He’s delightful on the page, and, as you’ll hear on this week’s episode (and if you’ve listened to him on podcasts Harry Potter and the Sacred Text or The Real Question, you already know this), he’s even more delightful if you have the chance to speak with him.

But beyond being our new best friend, he’s dedicated his professional life to rituals and community as a Harvard Divinity fellow (and so much more). As ter Kuile puts it, he gets to think about community and religion all the time as a job and how people can live lives of meaning, connection and purpose. But for the sake of understanding exactly how cool he is, I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing:

  • Education: Masters of Divinity and Public Policy from Harvard University – he’s a Ministry Innovation Fellow at Harvard Divinity School.
  • Author: The Power of Ritual (HarperOne), co-authored “How We Gather” – his work has been featured in the New York Times, Vice, The Atlantic, and the Washington Post.
  • Podcast host: co-host of the award-winning podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, co-host of The Real Question.
  • Founder: co-founder of startup Sacred Design Lab – a research and design consultancy working to create a culture of belonging and becoming. Co-founded Campaign Bootcamp and the UK Youth Climate Coalition, both training and mobilizing young activists.

But how he got there is the most interesting part. He was raised without a religious background, but was really interested in bringing the cultural and community lens that’s often found in religion to secular culture. That’s how he – a human who grew up by all accounts as an atheist – decided to go to divinity school.

In this episode he recounts feeling rejected by religion as a gay teenager and so he “rejected it right back.” That’s why he says, most of his research is focused not on the beliefs of religion, but on the practices. And after years of that work, he’s found that each of those practices gives a home for meaning and helps him pay attention to the things that matter most.

Listen to the full episode for reflections on writing a book and where you’ll see ter Kuile once he achieves his future goal (hint: TV).

To say that Kristen and I loved interviewing Casper ter Kuile together is a super understatement. If you love this episode as much as we do, subscribe to the #WeGotGoals podcast wherever you like to listen to podcasts, including on Apple and Spotify (and leave us a rating while you’re at it, please).

Resources:

  • How We Gather: a paper ter Kuile co-authored that examined where unaffiliated millennials were gathering (spoiler: it’s a lot of fitness communities)
  • The Power of Ritual: This is Casper’s book that we absolutely recommend buying or checking out from your local library
  • Harry Potter and the Sacred Text: this is the podcast that he was involved in producing for more than five years (and just semi-retired from)
  • The Real Question: from the same team that brought you Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, every episode of this podcast has made me cry (in a good way, but I also have a lot of feelings)
  • Follow Casper ter Kuile on Instagram

Let us know!

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About Jeana Anderson Cohen

Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of asweatlife.com a premiere wellness media destination that creates content and community to help womxn live better lives and achieve their goals. Before founding health-focused companies Jeana earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison - and fresh out of college she worked on the '08 Obama campaign in Michigan. From there, she created and executed social media strategies for brands. aSweatLife fuses her experience in building community and her passion for wellness. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, trying to join a book club, and walking her dog Maverick.