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In the religious sense, rituals are rules that govern how people behave in the presence of the sacred. These rules may take the form of instructions detailing the appropriate context for worship, the roles of various participants, acceptable dress, and the precise wording of chants, songs, and prayers. Participants must follow the instructions closely to achieve a specific goal, whether it be to purify the participant's body or soul, to commemorate an important person or event, or to transform profane items into sacred items.

According to Durkheim, the nature of the ritual is relatively insignificant. Rather, the important element is that a community of worshipers shares the ritual and evokes certain ideas and sentiments that help individuals feel themselves to be part of something larger than themselves.

Although rituals are often enacted in sacred places, some are codes of conduct aimed at governing the performance of everyday activities, such as sleeping, walking, eating, defecating, washing, and dealing with members of the opposite sex. Rituals include kneeling in prayer facing Mecca five times each day and submerging the entire body in the Arabian Sea to experience baptism.

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