”Velkommen til oss”. Ritualisering av livets begynnelse


Velkommen til oss is a dissertation in the discipline of Sociology of religion that illuminates the pluralisation of Norwegian culture, with a point of departure in traditional and more recent ritualisations of the beginning of life. It is the analysis of the actors themselves as opposed to the ritual structures that constitutes my contribution to an understanding of the traditional christening service and more recent ritual actions. The analytical focus is on the parents’ concrete creation of the ritual actions, their experiences from carrying out the actions, and the parents’ understanding of what a ritual is and what the actions signify in both a religious/life stance and social sense. The title of the dissertation, Ritualisation of the beginning of life, refers to rituals that are mutually exclusive and that take place only once in a lifetime – as a rule in the course of the first years of a person’s life. The approach to the christening and naming ceremonies that I have chosen is that of in-depth interviews with nine sets of parents who have christened their child, four sets of parents who had a Humanist naming ceremony under the auspices of the Norwegian Humanist Association for children, three sets of parents who have created naming ceremonies in the alternative religion community and three sets of parents who have created private naming ceremonies. The parents were all new parents who had held a christening or naming ceremony for their child. The parents comprised a broad spectrum in terms of social background, civil status, and religious affiliation and life stance. The interviews were done in the autumn of 2003 and the spring of 2004. In the analysis of the actors’ respective relations to the christening service and the naming ceremony, I have chosen a practice-oriented and embodied perspective. As a means of stressing that my focus is on the actors, I employ the concept ritualisation instead of ritual. The term ritualisation has been developed on the basis of the social anthropologists Caroline Humphrey and James Laidlaw’s views on what constitutes a ritual action, and the sociologist and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of action approach to society. The intention behind this combination of a structural approach (Bourdieu) and actor-based approach (Humphrey & Laidlaw) is to illustrate that ritualisation is a part of society’s social and cultural structures and that ritualisation has a cognitive dimension. From Bourdieu I have also taken the concepts of field and habitus. I use the field concept in the division of the informants according to religious and life stance field, and both habitus and field in the analysis of the parents’ approaches to the christening service and naming ceremonies. A comparative perspective on the ritualisation of life’s beginning has made it possible to describe a pattern with differences and similarities in experiences from and reflections upon ritualisations. It appears that a habitus exists – an internal principle for thought and action in connection with birth and naming, which organises the ritual actions and experiences. This implies that the habitus adheres to a pattern that structures the actors in defined and learned trajectories. We are accordingly talking about culturally determined actions that appear to be stored in the body and that find expression with some similarities and differences from field to field. The christening and naming ceremony parents’ ritual habituses are not always challenged as one might perhaps expect with respect to the fields. It is not always the case that the attitudes and practices of the naming ceremony parents necessarily differ from those of the christening parents. The naming ceremonies do not always challenge the norms of the Christian field. The ritual habituses of the christening parents, the parents in the Humanist field, the universal social field and the alternative religion field show not only contradistinctive features, but also common features. This is particularly the case with regard to the tradition of godparents and the child’s attire. Using Pierre Bourdieu’s theory about the inclusive and exclusive power of rituals, I have explored whether christening and naming ceremonies have network and “nest building” functions for the children and parents. I use the term nest building to refer to the social processes that contribute to the establishment of family relationships and friendships, and I understand nest building as meaning the social processes behind the formation of couples and nuclear families. Christenings and naming ceremonies appear to have important social functions. The parents’ practices and experiences indicate that christenings and naming ceremonies are kinship events that have the potential to define the nuclear family, the mother and father as a couple, and the parents’ closest friends. The differences between the christening and naming ceremonies’ defining and consolidating functions with regard to kinship structures are few. The norms determining who has the right to be “consecrated” on this day are remarkably similar in all fields. Christenings and naming ceremonies also have important identity-forming aspects. For the christening parents, the christening is only to a limited extent motivated by the wish to give the child a Christian identity, but is rather first and foremost a means by which the parents confirm their connection to the church and to Christianity. For the alternative religion parents, the alternative religion’s naming ceremonies are finite expressions of the parents’ current religious orientation and of the parameters for the children’s upbringing. For parents with a Humanist life stance, Humanist naming ceremonies are a moderate Humanist life stance identity project. For some of these parents the naming ceremony marks the start of an identity project, while others have only a weak connection to the Norwegian Humanist Association. The private naming ceremonies confirm only to a small extent the parents’ faith or life stance. Instead, the private naming ceremonies underline the parents’ standing as autonomous individuals who live independent of a particular religious or life stance community. Feelings play a crucial part in the parents’ descriptions of their actions during the christenings, the Humanist and the private naming ceremonies. In the naming ceremonies of alternative religions, feelings have been an important theme in the context of creating the ceremony. Given the large emotional involvement in the ritual actions on the part of a number of the christening and naming ceremony parents, it would appear that christenings and naming ceremonies bear features of defined emotional spheres where feelings operate according to a specific logic. The attitude to the ritualisations appears to be predefined. In spite of what the parents might have experienced in the way of negative experiences or disappointments from christenings and naming ceremonies, the parents’ experiences from the ritualisations are on the whole of a positive nature. Humphrey and Laidlaw’s notion of scripts bears a close resemblance to a number of the naming ceremony parents’ mentalities regarding what constitutes a ritual and is key in some of the christening parents’ evaluations of the christening service. I have therefore used the concept of the script as an analytical tool as a means of understanding how the naming ceremony parents define their naming ceremonies and how the christening and naming ceremony parents view their ritual experiences. In all of the fields there are a number of similar features to be found in the parents’ attitudes towards ritual. The parents’ understanding of what defines a ritual is focused on celebration, meaningful contents and a strict orchestration of the ritual itself, while it simultaneously demonstrates those aspects of ritual that the parents deem to be most important. Many of the parents operate on the basis of a rigidly defined view of what qualifies as a ritual and what is required to create a good ritual. On the whole, a high level of ritualisation (high scripted) is something positive and a low level (low scripted) is something negative. For a number of the parents, a high level of ritualisation is what enhances ritual qualities, such as celebration, meaning and a strict orchestration. The value attributed to the three ritual dimensions varies from field to field. For the alternative religion parents, for some of the christening parents and also for one mother who had a Humanist naming ceremony and one mother who had a private naming ceremony, the ritual actions had a religious significance. In the alternative religions, the naming ceremony parents’ religious convictions hold a central significance in the creation of the naming ceremony, and for a number of the christening parents, belief in God is significant to an understanding of the christening. The ritualisations are based on a belief that the christening and naming ceremonies have a transformative effect on the child. For those of the parents who interpret the christening religiously, the hope is that the child, through words and water, will be granted God’s protection or fellowship with Jesus Christ. The alternative religion parents understand the naming ceremony as being a means of strengthening the child in general, as a human being. I have described the christening parents’ attitudes to christening through use of the metaphor “life belt”. I view both the life belt mentality of the christening parents, and the naming ceremony parents’ view of the naming ceremony as serving to strengthen the child, respectively, as strategies on the part of the parents that are intended to equip the child for encountering the future and life’s challenges

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