The New York Times has a story on the Explorers program, an affiliate of the Boy Scouts. Historically, the group has trained America’s youth to be police officers and firefighters.  Now they are being trained to confront terrorist threats and illegal immigration issues.

“This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl,” said A. J. Lowenthal, a sheriff’s deputy here in Imperial County, whose life clock, he says, is set around the Explorers events he helps run. “It fits right in with the honor and bravery of the Boy Scouts.”

Explorers ready to enter a building taken by terrorists, in an exercise.

As a blood-spattered hostage, played by Yajaira Barboza, 15, lay wounded, Explorers searched the building for her shooter.

Dave Holletz, of the Brawley, Calif., police department, entered after the Explorers had killed the last hostage-taker. "Forget the injured, forget the dead," Mr. Holletz advised the Explorers. "Accomplish your mission: terminate the shooter."

(all photos from NYTimes article)

The article is a stark contrast to Alves’ article in your reader about Portuguese coming of age rituals.  Reading the two together should highlight the various ways youths are socialised into roles associated with adulthood, and also how historically situated these rites of passage can be. Edo12 and K.Ro have good summaries while RitualMand brings a personal perspective to the discussion.


This week began with a discussion on the public and private aspects of marriage and weddings and then turned to a discussion of when marriage could be described as political.  You discussed the most recent example that has appeared in the NZ news –  Christine Rankin being appointed to the Families Commission and the ways her history of multiple marriages has become public fodder in the debate around her appointment.

This segued into Bourdieu, rites of passage as political events and symbolic capital.  The powerpoints are below.  We watched a clip from My Big Fat Greek Wedding and analysed it in terms of Bourdieu’s ideas of habitus.  We also discussed ideas of individualism, specifically the reflexive individual and self identity as a project, in terms of Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck and Scott Lash.

The clip from class begins at minute 6:

This week’s lectures highlighted two very different rituals, Hauka spirit possession and Cypriot weddings, but both examples brought our attention to the relationship between a ritual embedded in a society and the ways that cultural change can be reflected in this space.

On Tuesday, Jean Rouch’s Les Maîtres Fous showed an example of spirit possession rituals in West Africa after French colonial contact.  What did it mean that these rituals had clearly changed since colonial contact? Why had the pantheon of inhabiting spirits become colonial characters? Catherine posed several alternatives, with links to relevant articles and books –  Was it simply a reaction to colonial power structures?  Was it a way for rural migrants to cope with their new chaotic, urban environment?  Was it a response to the dramatic/traumatic rupture of traditional power structure?  Was the mimicry of colonial characters and protocol a form of appropriation or was it a form of resistance?  Or does the ritual spirit possession signify something that falls in between these two poles – is it a claim to membership within a white, colonial society where they are considered inferior?

Friday’s lecture on Cypriot weddings revealed the ritual weddings being considered in a new way alongside changes in Cypriot society.  As Cyprus finds itself facing increased levels of  ‘globalising processes like Westernisation’, in Argyrou’s terms, he argues that weddings, because of their very public nature in Cyprus, should be seen as a rite of class distinction rather than solely a rite of passage.  MoanaGirl ties this into this week’s readings on Packaged Japaneseness and relates it back to our earlier discussions on inventing tradition.  See Brigitte’s slides, below, on Tradition and Modernity in the Mediterranean: The wedding as symbolic struggle by Vassos Argyrou, for more on Cypriot weddings.

And in case you missed the hintin the lecture today, the next three lectures will be very helpful

for preparing for the end of the semester

With a few exceptions, this course has predominantly focused on public aspects of ritual.  This week we were trying to build a bridge between the public, highly visible side of rituals and rites of passage and the more personal, private aspects of rituals.

Brigitte’s presentation on Renato Rosaldo’s Culture & Truth: The remaking of social analysis aimed to highlight a shift in ritual studies. Using Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage as a specific example, she highlighted the role emotions can play in ritual life – the emotions of the Ilongots as well as the emotions of the anthropologist.  Many ritual studies focus on a bounded event – it is easy to observe and it has a noticeable structure.  Rosaldo says that ritual studies should also follow the accompanying emotions – the experience of death is a much larger event than the ritualised funeral.  The argument was made that one shouldn’t just read rituals as a text; one needs to read between the lines as well in order to glimpse what it feels like to be someone who has to confront the emotional side of a ritual event such as death.  This would begin the process of thinking about rituals in terms of open ended human processes rather than bounded events.

The presentation also provided some insight into the confusing process that is fieldwork and ethnographic writing – I bet more than one of you have felt a little of this in the past two weeks while going through your fieldnotes and writing up your essays!

Baptism, another life crisis ritual, was used as an accompanying example to the discussion of Rosaldo and the ritual of death in Friday’s lecture.  You discussed what some key elements of life crisis rituals are, ie, acceptance into group, providing context and meaning for unavoidable biological change.

You also discussed the somewhat paradoxical role rituals can play in times of life crises.  For example, in the instances where the ritual itself is dangerous or life threatening (you specifically mentioned female circumcision and the exorcism story currently in the media), generally additional ritual precautions are taken to ensure safety.  Although, as Nixxta points out regarding Morini’s article in this week’s reading, perhaps it is the pain involved in these rites that is the key factor rather than the danger/safety relationship??

We watched a clip from Lehel Laszlo’s 1996 film, Baptising Ceremony in Bánhorvat. Thinking about the film ethnographically will be good practice for the upcoming test.  Specifically consider that you should be able to describe what happened in the clip: what did you see & what didn’t you see, which people are featured prominently, what do you think the filmmaker was trying to achieve?

Could it be that what characterises rituals in the modern world is a pattern of consumption?

Anthro:Politico writes:

A few weeks ago, a fellow mailing list subscriber extolled the virtues of Rite of Passage Journeys. It’s an organization that “provides intentional rites of passage experiences”. Sure, I knew this sort of thing existed, but this group just presents the information in an unusually blatant manner. My favorite has to be the “Adult Wilderness Quest” which is a “Nine-day retreat modeled after the cross-cultural and ancient rite of passage known as a vision quest.” And for $995 (with a $250 deposit) this rite of passage can be yours.

So if you complete this wilderness quest, exactly who’s rites are you passing? If the ritual doesn’t belong to your own culture, doesn’t that sort of defeat the point? Maybe, but let’s look at this in a different light.

What if “Western” rituals are based on having the power to consume? Advertisers and marketers have recognized the value of this idea for years. We’re forever hearing about the buying power of kids vs. tweens vs. teens and the strengths of those markets. Now ages are frequently marked by what consumer products are appropriate – for example, what’s the right age for your kid to get their first cell phone, and how is that determined by society-at-large?

Instead of looking at a ritual event (prom), we need to look instead for ritualized purchasing (the prom dress or tux, the limo, the dinner, the ticket). It makes sense that we can incorporate something like the intentional experiences from Rite of Passage Journeys as our own ritual, because our ritual is about wanting to buy it, and then purchasing it. Perhaps the liminal state is when your credit card is being processed.

An important ramification of this perspective is the role of consumption as a threat to the environment. When society places so much emphasis on purchasing stuff to the extent of ritualizing it, it becomes painfully obvious that a core value of our culture is intrinsically linked to environmental ruin. As a society, is it possible for us to have rites of passage and leave the credit cards and checkbook at home?

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Here’s the roundup of the issues you raised in class.

Nixxta broaches the topic of de-baptism as status reversal and ties it into the question of what happens if a rite of passage isn’t completed successfully.

And two blogs picked up the comment about a third gender in India as a type of extended liminality.   Pearl12 explains the Hijars with a concise, to-the-point summary and Esther01 provides a link to a very informative article on the phenomenon.  Also, Moanagirl gives a reading recommendation for Among the Thugs as an example of an extended liminal period for one man trying to understand football hooliganism.

There is another link to an article on liminality here, while Edo12 suggests looking at this article on body rituals of the Nacirema.  Additionally, there’s an interesting discussion of ritual vs habit (no nuns involved) at Jess’ Ritual Blog.

Update: Ingie Hovland has a great post on trying to make sense of her experience studying the meetings of all-women groups in Norway – it resonated with much of what has emerged in class discussion:

I have been wondering, however, whether I can really describe their meetings as “rituals.” I guess the short answer is that it depends on what I mean by “ritual.” But I found a slightly longer and more useful answer recently…

Here’s a creative approach to one aspect of rites of passage we’ve discussed in class.  These are artist Mary Yaeger’s female merit badges.  She says,

My female merit badges illustrate female “rites of passage” as well as the myriad physical manipulations women undergo to achieve cultural ideals of beauty, such as weight watching, whether or not to shave or wear makeup, etc. I’ve created tiny replicas of female products, such as a birth control pill pack and a pregnancy test. The miniature scale and meticulous, hand-embroidered surfaces convey my impressions of growing up female in our culture.