Dec 12, 2022

Tools for Human Flourishing: Collective Effervescence - With Koolulam & Shira Gabriel (video)

What can science tell us about the heightened sense of unity often felt during group activities, especially mass singing?

By Templeton Staff

Play the above video learn how participation in large group events may impact wellbeing.

Have you ever felt collective effervescence? Sociologist Emile Durkheim coined the term to describe the connection to others and a sensation of sacredness often felt by people engaged in shared mass experiences. With funding from Templeton World Charity Foundation, social psychologist Dr. Shira Gabriel is investigating how the phenomenon of collective effervescence impacts spirituality, connection, acceptance, and wellbeing.

Six years ago, Or Taicher, an Israeli artist, was scrolling through YouTube when he came across a video that would change his life. In the video, thousands of religious Jews gathered at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Swaying, shoulder to shoulder, their voices joined together as one, they sang. Despite being a secular Jew, Taicher was moved. He felt the unity and spirituality and he wondered: could people sing together in a secular setting and feel that same unity and spirituality? Taicher partnered with musical director Ben Yaffet and CEO Michal Shahaf to create Koolulam, an organization that has now brought mass singing events to over 350,000 people all over the world. 

Gabriel's study is looking at the effects group singing events like those put together by Koolulam have on aspects of our wellbeing. "We've done a lot of research and what we have found is that experiencing collective effervescence is very strongly related to human flourishing," says Gabriel. "It's a very strong predictor. The more people experience collective effervescence, the lower their stress level is, the less likely they are to suffer from depression, and the more likely they are to feel as if their life has meaning, as if there's a purpose in what they're doing."

Koolulam events bring together thousands of people, who don't necessarily know one another, who don't always know music, and who don't always even speak the same language to join in a common activity. "When so many people are stepping out of their comfort zone at the same time, at the same place, this is where the magic happens. The human connection is being made," shares Shahaf. "We know music is important, but we're not sure why yet. Empirically we have ideas, but I'm going to be fascinated to see what it is about music that leads to the positive events," says Gabriel.


"We want so badly to feel we're part of something bigger than ourselves. It's at the core of what it means to be human." - Dr. Shira Gabriel


Dr. Gabriel points out that when people are in large groups with others — it could be any group: a football game, a concert, a rally, or a religious event — people get this sense of connection to other people and as if something sacred is happening. "Religion gives many people that ability to tap into what is sacred and special," she notes. For people who aren't religious, participating in group events is an opportunity to find that same feeling. She continues, "Something that we want so badly is to feel this general sense that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. It's at the core of what it means to be a human being."

The research project will give scientists the opportunity to look at the more long-term effects of mass gatherings. The study will collect data from people six months after a Koolulam event, to see how they were affected by participating, and if the effects have lasted.

To learn more, watch the video with the above player.

Learn more about the TWCF-funded research project related to this video.

Listen to the podcast related to this video.

This video is a winner of a 2023 Communicator Award of Distinction.

Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” videos by journalist and senior media executive Richard Sergay feature human stories and critical perspectives on breakthroughs about the universe’s big questions. The inspiring narratives and observations in these award-winning videos portray the individual and societal impacts of the projects that bring to life TWCF-supported research.