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Not New Age, but for Older Age: Ritual for Later Life
posted 10.24.2011

The Fall 2011 issue of Generations is all about ritual, from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Ritual can be as simple as sipping that morning cup of coffee. Or it can be more weighted and complex—a structured act or rite to ease life’s losses, such as the death of a loved one, retirement or even “giving up the car keys.” With a nod to the work of cultural anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff, guest editors and fellow anthropologists Sherylyn Briller and Andrea Sankar guide us on a journey through the landscape of ritual in life’s “third chapter.”

“People are now living longer lives, and ritual in later life is an underexplored topic that deserves more attention,” say Briller and Sankar. “This issue of Generations shows how ritual is very much infused in the everyday lives of older adults, and why it is beneficial for those who work with elders to understand ritual’s role in structuring social life throughout the life course.”

Rituals can be used to mark significant transitions in later life, and Myerhoff was an important early voice that addressed this topic. In more than a dozen articles, our contributing authors look to Myerhoff’s ideas about the purposes of ritual, its symbols and messages, and how it connects people to each other. From the ritual of domino playing in Miami’s “Little Havana,” and rituals honoring life and death in nursing homes, to women’s daily rituals of dress, articles “explore what new kinds of older age rituals may look like, as well as why more traditional forms of old age rituals may persist,” say Briller and Sankar.

 “One goal for this issue of Generations is to encourage those who work with and serve older adults to further consider the ritualized behaviors they regularly encounter among elders,” say Briller and Sankar. “If practitioners are intrigued and engaged with this subject, they may consider devising new rituals and exploring the implications of those rituals for practice.”

ASA is proud to offer this latest issue of Generations, which will be reaching ASA members and subscribers in late October. Single copies can also be purchased from our website.


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