The Rites of Passage and Liminality

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  • Topic: Rite of Passage, Hajj, Liminality
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  • Published : January 29, 2013
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The Rites of Passage and Liminality
Originally developed by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep in the early 20th century in his book Rites de Passage, the term liminality refers to the concept in which participants are in the threshold stage of disorientation and suspension from the previous social norm that they were used to. When an individual goes through a rite of passage—also coined by van Gennep—he is cut off from his “old life” and is born again into a new person. However, before he can fully become a new person and finish his rite of passage, he is suspended in a liminal stage that bridges the old self with the newly acknowledged self. In other words, he is in a stage of disorientation and amorphous identity. Found throughout all cultural societies, the rite of passage and its components manifests much about a certain culture and its religious values through both secular public events—graduation, reaching adulthood, and marriage—and ceremonial rituals—birth, marriage, the hajj, and death. Derived from the Latin word limen meaning “the threshold”, the concept of liminality was later adopted by Victor Turner and applied to an extensive number of cultural rites that have been observed globally. The rites of passage can be categorized into three phases: preliminal (separation), liminal (transition), and postliminal (reincorporation). The preliminal phase is where the participant was the same person as when first born, then passed through a “death”, which propels him into the liminal phase where he waits until the rite of passage and initiation is completed before being in the postliminal phase, the phase where he is reincorporated into society as a new person. In the Ndembu society, a boy is not yet a man until he has passed through the liminal stage of special “schooling” with other boys. This collective group of young boys going through the liminal stage is called a communitas, which is an intense togetherness spirit that solidifies the community and the...
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