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cultural anthropology

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Cultural Anthropology Course Information


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Rites of Passage

(Life-cycle Rituals)

(Transition Rites)


    • rituals associated with important changes in personal status, such as . . .

      • birth
        • age grades

      • adolescence (usually puberty)

      • "voluntary associations" / "sodalities" . . .

      • marriage

      • old age

      • death

Index to Marriage and Kinship / Descent


The classis work on rites of passage is by Arnold Van Gennep, Rites of Passage, 1909
    • rites of separation

    • rites of preparation

    • rites of "aggregation" which incorporate the initiate into her/his new status


  • Rites of Intensification
    • rites which reaffirm a status in society

      • e.g., confirmation in the Christian church

      • e.g., renewal of marriage vows

      • e.g., Hajj -- pilgramage to Mecca, one of the five "Pillars of Islam"


    • a ritual performed to mark a change in status from one life stage to another of an individual or group

    • phases often include:

      1. separation
      • initiate is separated physically, socially, or symbolically from normal life

    1. transition ("liminal phase")

      • person is no longer in the previous status, but is not yet a member of the next stage

      • often involves the learning of specialized skills that will equip the person for the new status

    1. reintegration

      • initiate emerges and is welcomed by the community in the new status


  • differences in the distribution of puberty rituals for boys and girls are thought to reflect the economic value and status of males and females within the society

    • most societies have some form of puberty ceremony for boys, but puberty ceremonies for girls are less common

      • this is related to the mode of production and gender division of labor

      • in societies where female labor is important and valued, girls have elaborate (and sometimes painful) puberty rites

      • female puberty rites often function to socialize the female labor force

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