Cover Image

Larger ImageView Larger


Opening the Doors of Wonder

Reflections on Religious Rites of Passage

Arthur Magida (Author)


Other Formats Available:
This bold, pioneering book explores rites of passage in America by sifting through the accounts of influential thinkers who experienced them. Arthur J. Magida explains the underlying theologies, evolution, and actual practice of Jewish bar and bat mitzvahs, Christian confirmations, Hindu sacred thread ceremonies, Muslim shahadas and Zen jukai ceremonies. In rare interviews, renowned artists and intellectuals such as Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, holistic guru Deepak Chopra, singer Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), actress/comedienne Julia Sweeney, cartoonist Roz Chast, interfaith maven Huston Smith, and many more talk intimately about their religious backgrounds, the rites of passage they went through, and how these events shaped who they are today.

Magida compares these coming of age ceremonies' origins and evolution, considers their ultimate meaning and purpose, and gauges how their meaning changes with individuals over time. He also examines innovative rites of passage that are now being "invented" in the United States. Passionate and lyrical, this absorbing book reveals our deep, ultimate need for coming-of-age events, especially in a society as fluid as ours.

Conversations with: Bob Abernethy, Huston Smith, Julia Sweeney, Roz Chast, Harold Kushner, Ram Dass, Elie Wiesel, Deepak Chopra, Robert Thurman, Coleman Barks, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), And others
Introduction: Sometimes, the Magic Works

1. The Descent of the Spirit
2. Bob Abernethy: No Fundamental, Life-Changing Experience
3. Chinua Achebe: What Makes Someone Give Up Their Religion?
4. Huston Smith: Religion Saturated the House
5. Julia Sweeney: That Soldier-of-Christ, Slap-across-the-Face Stuff Is Sick
6. Jim Zogby: The Walmart-ization of the Church

7. What, Really, Is a Man?
8. Leon Botstein: I’m Tone Deaf to Belief
9. Roz Chast: I Was Like a Spy. Like a Closet Jew
10. Rabbi Harold Kushner: I Wanted To Make My Parents Proud
11. Letty and Abigail Pogrebin, Mother and Daughter: “You Are a Woman” Meant “You Do the Dishes”
12. Ram Dass: Mushrooms Gave Me What I Could Have Had at My Bar Mitzvah
13. Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin: Israel and I Came of Age Together
14. Elie Wiesel: I Am Not God’s Policeman

15. The Thread of Life
16. Deepak and Gotham Chopra, Father and Son: Religion Is Frequently Idiotic

17. Waking Up
18. Roshi John Daido Loori: Born a Buddha. Die a Buddha
19. Robert Thurman: I Looked Like Henry Miller in Drag

20. Allah Is One
21. Coleman Barks: Just Being Sentient Is Cause for Rapture
22. Dr. Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens): Floating on a Cloud of Mercy
23. Michael Wolfe: I Feel Like a Monotheist with Extra Credentials

Epilogue: Would Anyone Riding by on a Horse Even Notice?
Arthur J. Magida is Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University and author of The Rabbi and the Hit Man, Prophet of Rage, and How to Be a Perfect Stranger.
" For a book about religion, Opening the Doors of Wonder is refreshingly down to earth . . . [Magida] writes engagingly as a serious person who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Perhaps because he is honest about his own disappointment with, and doubts about, established religion— and his own search for a more personal, intense, affecting, spirituality— he inspires a startling degree of frankness among his subjects."—Baltimore Style Magazine
“Arthur J. Magida, an astute observer of the American religious scene, explores . . . intriguing questions in his new book, ‘Opening the Doors of Wonder: Reflections on Religious Rites of Passage.’ His probing interviews with 20 representatives of five spiritual traditions provide some surprising answers.”—Religion News Service
“An expansive exploration that has given us an abundance of food for thought.”—
“This richly developed volume looks at rites of passage rituals as celebrated by the world's religions. . . . [Magida] lets light in from all directions on coming-of-age ceremonies and their meanings.”—Spirituality & Practice
“An intimate look at how religion can shape and influence an individual to make lasting impressions.”—Vision Magazine
"A wonderful, important book. Opening the Doors of Wonder will go far toward helping us understand one another. This is a much-needed venture in our post-9/11 age."—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University

"It may be easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a spiritual seeker to enter a religious tradition with their psyche intact. Magida explores the varied processes of initiation among an eclectic cross-section of notables that include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. His lively portraits of transformation demonstrate both the losses and gains that come with the struggle to find religious meaning within a community. This book promises to stir up powerful memories and reframe the challenge of living faithfully within a world of competing, often conflicting religious claims."—Dr. Christopher M. Leighton, Executive Director of the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies

"Inside this wonderful book, renowned rabbis, zen priests, authors and even comics and cartoonists recall the religious rites of passage that have shaped their lives. Through the humor and pathos of their stories, we are offered a vital, very readable investigation of our society's current spiritual condition. I highly recommend Opening the Doors of Wonder. In whatever way you can, walk on through."—Wes Nisker, Buddhist meditation teacher, journalist, author of Essential Crazy Wisdom

"This fascinating book airs out a multitude of responses to a spiritual topic that we avoid at our peril—the presence (or lack) of rites of passage in modern America. Magida's style is often poetic, and his interviews reveal, often in surprising ways, how deeply, and often how invisibly, people of all faiths are influenced by religion's rituals and ceremonies. Moreover, they show how the failure or disappointment of our rites of passage can affect the way we deal with transition for the rest of our lives."—Phil Cousineau, author of The Art of Pilgrimage and Once and Future Myths

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more