A rite of passage is a ritual that a person must go through in order to progress to the next stage of their life. It is a universal phenomenon which can show anthropologists what social hierarchies, values and beliefs are important in specific cultures. Rites of passage are often ceremonies surrounding events such as other milestones within puberty, coming of age, marriage, weddings, and death. Initiation ceremonies such as baptism, confirmation and bar or bat Mitzvah are considered important rites of passage for persons of their respective religions.

History of term

The concept as a general theory of socialization was first formally enunciated by Arnold van Gennep in his book of that name, to denote rituals marking the transitional phase between childhood and full inclusion into a tribe or social group. Gennep's work exercised a deep impact on anthropological thought.[1]

Rites of passage have three phases: separation, liminality, and re-incorporation—as first outlined by van Gennep. In the first phase, people withdraw from the group and begin moving from one place or status to another. 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. In the third phase, they reenter society, having completed the rite and assumed their 'new' identity. Re-incorporation is characterised by elaborate rituals and ceremonies, like debutant balls and college graduation. The liminal phase is the period between states, during which people have left one place or state but have not yet entered or joined the next.

Types and examples

Rites of passage are diverse, and are often not recognized as such in the culture in which they occur. Many society rituals may look like rites of passage but miss some of the important structural and functional components. 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 (Cushing, 1998). 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.

Several organizations, such as Boys to Men Mentoring Network and Rite of Passage Journeys in Bothell, Washington, provide nature based initiatory experiences that do include the incorporation phase. At the end of Rite of Passage Journeys' Coming-of-Age trips, parents arrive to work with their children for the final weekend of the experience, so that changes that occurred on the trip can be supported when the youth returns to his or her home environment.

Some other examples of rites of passages in contemporary society are given in the following subsections.

Coming of age rites of passage

  • Bar Mitzvah
  • First haircut
  • Guan Li
  • Poy Sang Long
  • Quinceañera
  • Scarification and various other physical endurances
  • Etoro tribe and Baruya in Papua New Guinea where young boys must begin ingesting their elders semen, and then stop doing it at a certain age.
  • Getting of the first identity card (e. g. the Communist regime in the Czechoslovakia tried to replace all religious rituals by secular ones; the identity card was given in the age of 15)

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.

Religious initiation rites

Other initiation rites


  1. Kathleen Garces-Foley, Death and religion in a changing world, M:E: Sharpe, 2006, p.230.
  • Bell, B. J. (2003). "The rites of passage and outdoor education: Critical concerns for effective programming." The Journal of Experiential Education, 26, 1, pp. 41–50.
  • Cushing, P.J. (1998). "Competing the cycle of transformation: Lessons from the rites of passage model." Pathways: The Ontario Journal of Experiential Education, 9,5,7–12.
  • Turner, V (1967). 'Betwixt and between: the liminal period in rites de passage,' Forest of symbols: aspects of the Ndembu ritual, Cornell UP, Ithaca, pp. 23-59.

Further reading

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Rite of passage. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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