There is a fascinating genre in literature called bildungsroman that refers to the coming-of-age of the protagonist of the story on both the psychological and moral level. This transformation is one that is of interest to the world at large, seeing as it is something that every single person goes through, no matter what their race, religion or nationality. It is no wonder then that there is an abundance of such stories; a handful of famous examples are; Jane Eyre; David Copperfield; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Princess Bride and Harry Potter.
It is fascinating to look at how different societies relate to the coming of age- in some societies this is regarded to be the time when a child experiences sexual maturity whereas in others it is directly linked to modern legal conventions connected to certain ages. Especially fascinating is the connection between religion and coming-of-age and this will be our subject. We will take a brief look at different religions from around the world and their way of relating to the coming-of-age.
The Bahai faith views the age of fifteen as the age at which one gains maturity on a spiritual level. At fifteen, one may decide whether or not one wishes to associate oneself with the Bahai religion. If one does decide to accept the religion, one automatically becomes obligated to observe certain laws such as prayer and fasting.
In the Theravada branch of Buddhism, just under the age of twenty boys undergo a period of trying out the orthodox Buddhist monastic lifestyle in a monastery. The period can last anywhere between three days and three months and during that time the boys live according to the strict orthodox rules that include celibacy, voluntary poverty, nonviolence and daily fasting between noon and sunrise of the following day.
After this period the boys decide whether they wish to become fully ordained monks or return to lay life. Once they have completed this period (in the event that they do return to lay life and most do) they are considered ready for adult married life.
Between the ages of twelve and fifteen a young person celebrates his coming of age by undergoing confirmation whereby the Bishop lays his hands on the forehead of the young person. Eastern Orthodox churches are different in that infants are confirmed straight after baptism.
Hinduism view coming-of-age as the age at which the boy or girl are mature enough to understand his or her familial and societal responsibilities. Boys undergo a ceremony whereby it is recognized that they are now mature enough to do religious ceremonies. Girls often celebrate their coming-of-age after receiving their first menstrual period- they will be dressed in a sari and their coming of age will be announced to the community.
Once a child undergoes puberty in Islam, s/he is required to take on obligatory religious obligations. In Sunni Islam there is no coming of age ceremony. In Shia Islam there are two coming-of-age ceremonies. At the age of prayer (seven years old) the child is asked a number of question relating to Islam and about his or her readiness to which he/she replies yes. Around the age of 15-17 a similar ceremony is held and they will be asked whether they fully understand their religious obligations and they will respond yes. After the ceremony a big celebration for family and friends is held.
In the Jewish religion, girls reach maturity at the age of twelve and boys at the age of thirteen. Even if these ages are not officially marked the boy or girl is still regarded spiritually mature. From these ages onwards the girls and boys are regarded as responsible and accountable for their actions and are expected to keep all of the Jewish commandments. Jewish boys will start to put on religious objects, called Phylacteries, daily and can be counted as part of prayer quorum. They will also be called to read from the Bible in the Synagogue.