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He was born in Ludwigsburg, Kingdom of Wrttemberg. His father was a German, his mother, whose family name he later adopted, was originally Dutch. At the age of six his parents divorced and he and his mother moved to France where she later married a French doctor who moved the family to Savoy. Van Gennep is best known for his work regarding rites of passage ceremonies and his significant works in modern French folklore. He is recognized as the founder of folklore studies in France. He went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne, but was disappointed that the school did not offer the subjects he wanted. So he enrolled at the cole des langues orientales to study Arabic and at the cole pratique des hautes tudes for philology, general linguistics, Egyptology, Ancient Arabic, primitive religions, and Islamic culture. This scholarly independence would manifest itself for the remainder of his life. He never held an academic position in France. From 1912 to 1915 he held the Chair of Ethnography at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland but was expelled for expressing doubts about the neutrality of Switzerland during World War I. There he reorganized the museum and organized the first ethnographical conference (1914). In 1922 he toured the United States. His most famous work is Les rites de passage (The Rites of Passage) (1909) which includes his vision of rites of passage rituals as being divided into three phases: preliminary, liminaire (liminality) (a stage much studied by anthropologist Victor Turner), and postliminaire (post-liminality). His major work in French folklore was Le Manuel de folklore franais contemporain (1937-1958). He died in 1957 at Bourg-la-Reine, France.