Starting with birth and working chronologically through a series of case studies, this course invites students to examine the centrality of ritual in modern American life. We will look closely at rituals that celebrate the human lifecycle as well as overtly competitive sporting and political rituals. We will explore rituals that unfold at the local level as well as those that most Americans experience only via the media. Rituals under examination will include birthday parties, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Halloween, Quincea'eras, Proms, graduations, rodeos, Homecomings, weddings, Greek initiations, beauty pageants, reunions and funerals. Students will be encouraged to critically examine their own ritual beliefs and practices and to consider these and other theoretical questions: What is the status of ritual in post-industrial culture? What distinguishes popular from official ritual and secular from religious ritual? How do sociological variables such as race, class, gender, sexuality, and religion shape people's understanding of, and participation in, modern American rituals? What role does ritual play in family life? How do contemporary rituals bond Americans at the local and/or national level? All students will be expected to conduct original research on a ritual of their choosing.