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Cole Smith

Lee, Raymond L.M.. 2008. Modernity, Mortality and Re-enchantment: The Death Taboo
Revisited. Sociology 42 (4). Sage Publications, Ltd.: 74559.
How the Death Taboo Bought the Farm
In Modernity, Mortality and Re-enchantment: The Death Taboo Revisited Raymond L.
M. Lee presents the case that if Death ever was taboo in western culture, it no longer is as a
result of postmodern re-enchantment.
Lee outlines the work of Weber who states that modernity caused a demand for a
rationalized view of the world. This rationalization meant scouring value-spheres of the mystical.
As a result of this disenchantment, self-referencing cultural nihilism means that nothing in life
can have true meaning, including death. Once death is meaningless, it becomes unable to lead to
anything meaningful. According to Weber, the secularization of death helps to initiate the
removal of the taboo by stripping deaths sacred significance.
Adding on Webers work, Lee references Tiryakian who states that modernitys romantic
fascination with viewing the world in new ways was not entirely non-mystical and sowed the
seeds of re-enchantment. Lee claims that re-enchantment occurred as modernity allowed for
secular exploration of transcendence.
Lee claims that as mans fascination with the hidden and mysterious remained unabated,
and sacred taboos had been set (somewhat) aside, a new definition of death began to develop.
Rather than the silent grave and Grim Reaper, death was seen as a transition to higher levels of
understanding. This new idea of death as explorative required reinventing the relationship
between the body and the mind. In order for death to be viewed as transitory, the identity of the
individual has to be separated from the body. The mind must be able to survive the death of the
body. Lee cites the recognition of parapsychology by scientific organizations as evidence of
societal belief in the minds paranormal nature.
Near death experiences (NDEs) offer Lee further ammunition. He claims that as medical
science has become abler to resuscitate the dying, more NDE are being relayed. Scientific
research into the phenomenon is portrayed by Lee as an effect of re-enchantment and evidence of
a new construct of death the defies taboo.
Lees work contributes to the general definition of taboo by examining the decline of
taboos. The fact that the process of eliminating a taboo requires changing concepts of religion,
the mystic, cultural value systems and human identity shows the power of taboo to shape all of
these areas. The strength of the taboo is realized by examining how every aspect of life, not just
the tabooed area, serve the taboo.