Life Events and Rites of Passage

Cultural Studies

Life Events and Rites of Passage

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The time of transition from one life state to another—from childhood to young adulthood, for example—is often a time of special meaning, marked by celebrations and special traditions. The ways people recognize and celebrate key events in their lives illustrate both religious and secular tradition and is woven into the very fabric of American life.

Life Events and Rites of Passage presents an introduction to the history, symbols, traditions, and customs of important life-cycle events ranging from birth to death, within the broad range of cultural and religious groups in the United States. Featuring a multicultural approach, the book includes important life events from the nation’s major religious and ethnic groups.

Life Events and Rites of Passage contains approximately 100 entries organized into four main sections: Birth and Childhood, Coming of Age, Adult Rites of Passage, and Death and Mourning. Each of these sections contain many entries that cover a wide range of important events during these special times. Sample entries include:

Birth and Childhood

  • Baby Shower
  • Baptism
  • Aqiqah
  • First Day of School

Coming of Age

  • Bar and Bat Mitzvahs
  • Quinceañera
  • Vision Quest
  • Driving
Adulthood

  • Getting Engaged
  • Jumping the Broom
  • Performing the Hajj
  • Retirement

Death and Mourning

  • Last Rites
  • New Orleans Jazz Funeral
  • Ching Ming
  • Día de los Muertos

Each entry on a life event or rite of passage includes recommendations for further reading on the topic and, when appropriate, contact information for organizations associated with the tradition. Additional features include a foreword by Clifton D. Bryant, Department of Sociology, Virginia Tech University, a bibliography, and a subject index. For a more complete understanding of the coverage offered in Life Events and Rites of Passage, please see the Sample Pages.

Notes from the Foreword

Many years ago a very old and very wise man observed that “Living is what you do while you are waiting to die!” Certainly there is great truth in this. The time between the moment you are born until the minute of your death constitutes your life with all of the events and experiences that occur within it. This is your life!

Your life, however, does not unfold as a steady and continuous stream of happenings and experiences. Rather, it is punctuated by a series of very special events that divide your existence into distinctive periods or segments during which one occupies a very special social status and has a unique categorical identity. There are numerous such special events and ceremonies that occur during the life course. Examples here might include coming of age and achieving adult status, graduations, marriage, and death, to mention but some. There are many such life-changing events that call for special ceremonies. These are known as “Rites of Passage.”

In this volume, Life Events and Rites of Passage: The Customs and Symbols of Major Life-Cycle Milestones, Including Cultural, Secular, and Religious Traditions Observed in the United States, entries examine the special events, with the accompanying rites or ceremonies of passage, that punctuate the life course and divide it into social status segments. In order to demonstrate to the reader that rites of passage are, indeed, universal, the book leads the reader on a cultural odyssey that examines some of the special events and ceremonies in the life course in a number of different American groups—Hebrew, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Cajun, Native American, Chinese, Japanese, and others. This literary journey lets the reader fully share the rites of passage of those in other societies. As this volume shows, people everywhere enjoy and celebrate the very special events that make up their lives.

By Clifton D. Bryant
Department of Sociology
Virginia Tech University

Reviews

"[An] easy-to-read and interesting format for an intended audience of middle school and high school students. This book would also be an excellent starting place for college students researching customs and ceremonies or for anyone interested in life's rites of passage. ... American social customs are continually being shaped by a melting pot outlook that welcomes a variety of customs from regional sources (such as Native American, Mexican American, and Cajun) and from international cultures (such as Chinese and Japanese). The book supports this outlook. ... This volume would be an excellent textbook for a class on cultural diversity because of its coverage of folk beliefs, ceremonies, rituals, and everyday beliefs. ... [This] is a great place for students to begin to understand how we transition from one life stage to the next."

—RUSQ: Reference & User Services Quarterly, Winter '08

"[An] informative and concise work on the many traditions of people living in the United States. ... This book provides a good starting point for those needing basic information, especially since it approaches topics from a wide variety of cultural viewpoints. A useful addition to middle and high school libraries."

—Library Journal, Aug '08

"Unlike other reference materials on holidays and events, this takes a far more personal approach to religious and secular celebrations and commemorations observed by groups in the United States. The volume is organized chronologically by life event, rather than by culture, facilitating cross-cultural comparisons. . . . Overall, the information is well documented, with relevant website references and a list of further readings at the end of each chapter. ... This resource is appropriate for public, high school, and undergraduate libraries."

—ARBAonline, July '08

"[Life Events and Rites of Passage] leads the reader on a cultural odyssey that examines some of the special events and ceremonies in the life course in a number of different societies—Hebrew, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Cajun, Native American, Chinese, Japanese, and others. This literary journey lets the reader fully share the rites of passage of those in other societies."

—Clifton D. Bryant, Department of Sociology, Virginia Tech University