The volunteer and the sannyāsin: Archetypes of retirement in America and India

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Cultures differ in their models of the life course, including the number and the content of the stages through which people are expected to pass., Among those societies that recognize a period of retirement, the developmental tasks and opportunities that older individuals face are shaped by cultural ideas about morality, spirituality, passion, and fulfillment. This article examines two archetypes for retirement: the American volunteer, and the Indian sannyāsin or "renouncer." Drawing on ethnographic data from a study of American retirees and descriptions of spiritual seekers in India, it considers the social roles these ideal types play, their self and their public images, the congruence between cultural expectations and their actual experiences, and the underlying values these people embody. It suggests that while older American volunteers view retirement as an entitlement, they also stress their obligation to use free time to pay back their society for the benefits they have enjoyed. They thus add a moral dimension to a period often stereotypically characterized by a "busy ethic" and a mindframe of self-indulgence. India's sannyāsins, however, enter a life-stage of social withdrawal and spiritual pursuit after years of fulfilling their adult commitments to family and community. Yet, in their self-denial and renunciation of worldly engagements, they model for others the religious rewards that can follow after leading a dutiful life. These archetypes of aging thus bring out their cultures' contrasting emphases on inner- versus outer-directedness, self-development versus self-effacement, and personal freedom versus social responsibility.

Publication Name

International Journal of Aging and Human Development

Volume Number


First Page


Last Page


Issue Number




This document is currently not available here.