Rite of passage

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A rite of passage is a ritual event that marks a person's transition from one status to another. Rites of passage explore and describe various notable milestones in an individual's life, for any marked transitional stage, when one's social status is altered.

The concept of rites of passage as a general theory of socialization was first formally articulated by Arnold van Gennep in his book The Rites of Passage to denote rituals marking the transitional phase between childhood and full inclusion into a tribe or social group.[1] Van Gennep's work exercised a deep impact on anthropological thought.[2] Milestones include transitions from puberty, junior, middle and high school, coming of age, marriage, family and death.

Initiation ceremonies such as baptism, akika, upanayana, confirmation and Bar or Bat Mitzvah are considered important rites of passage for people of their respective religions. Rites of passage show anthropologists what social hierarchies, values and beliefs are important in specific cultures.


Rites of passage have three phases: separation, liminality, and incorporation, as van Gennep described. "I propose to call the rites of separation from a previous world, preliminal rites, those executed during the transitional stage liminal (or threshold) rites, and the ceremonies of incorporation into the new world postliminal rites."[3]

In the first phase, people withdraw from their current status and prepare to move from one place or status to another. "The first phase (of separation) comprises symbolic behavior signifying the detachment of the individual or group ... from an earlier fixed point in the social structure."[4] There is often a detachment or "cutting away" from the former self in this phase, which is signified in symbolic actions and rituals. For example, the cutting of the hair for a person who has just joined the army. He or she is "cutting away" the former self: the civilian.

The transition (liminal) phase is the period between states, during which one has left one place or state but has not yet entered or joined the next. "The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae ("threshold people") are necessarily ambiguous."[5]

In the third phase (reaggregation or incorporation) the passage is consummated [by] the ritual subject."[6] Having completed the rite and assumed their "new" identity, one re-enters society with one's new status. Re-incorporation is characterized by elaborate rituals and ceremonies, like debutant balls and college graduation, and by outward symbols of new ties: thus "in rites of incorporation there is widespread use of the 'sacred bond', the 'sacred cord', the knot, and of analogous forms such as the belt, the ring, the bracelet and the crown."[7]

Psychological effects[edit]

Laboratory experiments have shown that severe initiations produce cognitive dissonance.[8] It is theorized that such dissonance heightens group attraction among initiates after the experience, arising from internal justification of the effort used.[9] Rewards during initiations have important consequences in that initiates who feel more rewarded express stronger group identity.[10] As well as group attraction, initiations can also produce conformity among new members.[11] Psychology experiments have also shown that initiations increase feelings of affiliation.[12]


Initiation rites are seen as fundamental to human growth and development as well as socialization in many African communities. These rites function by ritually marking the transition of someone to full group membership.[13] It also links individuals to the community and the community to the broader and more potent spiritual world. Initiation rites are a natural and necessary part of a community, just as arms and legs are natural and necessary extension of the human body. These rites are linked to individual and community development. Dr. Manu Ampim identifies five stages; rite to birth, rite to adulthood, rite to marriage, rite to eldership and rite to ancestorship.[14] In Zulu culture entering womanhood is celebrated by the Umhlanga (ceremony).

Types and examples[edit]

Rites of passage are diverse, and are found throughout many cultures around the world. Many western societal rituals may look like rites of passage but miss some of the important structural and functional components. However, in many Native and African-American communities, traditional Rites of Passage programs are conducted by community-based organizations such as Man Up Global. Typically the missing piece is the societal recognition and reincorporation phase. Adventure Education programs, such as Outward Bound, have often been described as potential rites of passage. Pamela Cushing researched the rites of passage impact upon adolescent youth at the Canadian Outward Bound School and found the rite of passage impact was lessened by the missing reincorporation phase.[15] Bell (2003) presented more evidence of this lacking third stage and described the "Contemporary Adventure Model of a Rites of Passage" as a modern and weaker version of the rites of passage typically used by outdoor adventure programs. For non-religious people, Rites of Passage are important as well. They mark important changes in their lives and they help to guide them.

Coming of age[edit]

In various tribal societies, entry into an age grade—generally gender-separated—(unlike an age set) is marked by an initiation rite, which may be the crowning of a long and complex preparation, sometimes in retreat.


Jesus underwent Jewish circumcision, here depicted in a Catholic cathedral; a liturgical feast commemorates this on New Year's Day



Some academic circles such as dorms, fraternities, teams and other clubs practice hazing, ragging and fagging. Szecskáztatás, a mild form of hazing (usually without physical and sexual abuse) practiced in some Hungarian secondary schools. First-year junior students are publicly humiliated through embarrassing clothing and senior students branding their faces with marker pens; it is sometimes also a contest, with the winners usually earning the right to organize the next event.




See also[edit]


  1. ^ Van Gennep 1909.
  2. ^ Garces-Foley 2006: 230.
  3. ^ van Gennep 1977: 21
  4. ^ Turner 1969: 80.
  5. ^ Turner 1969: 95
  6. ^ Turner 1969: 80
  7. ^ van Gennep 1977: 166
  8. ^ Aronson & Mills 1959.
  9. ^ Festinger 1961.
  10. ^ Kamau 2012.
  11. ^ Keating et al. 2005.
  12. ^ Lodewijkx et al. 2005.
  13. ^ "African Culture Complex". Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  14. ^ http://www.manuampim.com/AfricanInitiationRites.htm The Five Major African Initiation Rites Prof. Manu Ampim
  15. ^ Cushing 1998.
  16. ^ Morgenstern 1966.
  17. ^ "Rites of Passage". Oxford Islamic Studies Online. 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  18. ^ "Traditional Muslim Male Circumcision: Performed by Arabs, Turkish, Malaysian and Others of this faith.". CIRCLIST. 1992–2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  19. ^ Hamid, Ismail (2005). "Islamic Rites of Passage". The Encyclopedia of Malaysia Volume 10: Religions and Beliefs. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 


Further reading[edit]

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