Of Rites and Rituals:
The History of Hazing and Pledging
Hazing in higher education has evolved over many centuries, drawing
its roots from rites of passage processes found within cultures dating
back to antiquity. As such, this section explores hazing’s roots over
the past several centuries.
Rites of Passage and the Anthropological
Foundations of Hazing
Rituals seep into the nooks and crannies of life and remain alive and
well in transitions as rites of passage. Societies have used rites of
passage to mark physiological transitions such as birth, puberty,
conception, and death. But the participants are not simply passing
from one state to another, but between two social groups. Thus the
child does not simply become an adult, but by performance of a
ritual, passes from the group of children to the group of adults.
Importantly, these transitions are not entirely marked by biology or
other external signs, but by the performance of a socially determined
ritual. Rites of passage in this way reflect the social structures by
which society is organized, and into which participants must fit.
Rites of passage exist in a three-part structure—separation,
margin, and aggregation. During separation, the participant leaves
behind the prior social group in order to prepare for joining the new
group. These two groups are oppositional—one cannot join a new
group without leaving behind something old—much like the concept
of high does not exist without the competing concept of low.
Severing ties with a social group may involve physical distance,
abandoning possessions, or the renunciation of ties with that group.
Severance from the old group is the first step toward admission into
the new group.
The second part of the three-part rite of passage is the margin
or limen, which is Latin for threshold. Having been separated from