On Ritual

I have been thinking a lot about rituals lately, as in the near future I will be undergoing one, the ritual of the thesis defence. I have heard it said that Canadian culture (whatever that in fact is) is a culture devoid of rituals, and for that reason people are so invested in rituals surrounding weddings, and perhaps the birth of babies, because they are the only ones left for us. In a religious context, marriage is only part of a series of rite-of-passage rituals, and so following this argument, it would seem that religious people should spend less money and time on weddings. As this is plainly not the case, it seems that the argument is imperfect. We could also argue that marriage and child-rearing have traditionally been understood as the most important aspects of a woman’s life, and so in spite of several decades of change in roles available to men and women, other parts of society are heavily invested in countering these changes by encouraging women to behave in a certain way at these moments, and chastise her if she does not (see for example comments about women who maintain that their natal names are their last name, and in some feminist circles, those who change their last names).

The thesis defence, seems at first glance, somewhat unrelated. This of course is not true. As the academy has its roots in the Church and many academic institutions in Canada and the US began as seminaries, what happens in the academy relates to what happens in the Church, or perhaps, to what was happening when the academy and the Church went their separate ways. Although they are not the same as one another, linguistic register, dress and behaviour can mark a person as an insider or an outsider. In the case of a wedding, these would include vows, the way the bride and female friends and family members dress, and the order in which people walk down the aisle, and with whom. How that ultimately translates into the appropriate speech, attire and behaviour for a thesis defence remains to be seen. 


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