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Welcome to:

Mapping Mortality
Session 1:
Introduction rhetoric and rituals
Introduction to the Module

Module Handbook
On being paperless
Weekly sessions
Suggested books

Whats it all about? From google images

Rhetoric and rituals of death

Death in different traditions
Deconstructing Death

All constructs of death are culturally

Therefore, we can examine and isolate the way
a society perceives of and represents death, the
dead, and dying

From google images

Various Approaches
Development - historical
Post-modern deconstruction post-modern sociology
Ritual subverts death - sociologist
Transcendence theological?
words against death theological/ humanistic?
Briefly: Cumpsty, Hertz, Davies, Frazer, Goldscmidt, Bowker,
Death Denial

Some scholars have seen religion as rooted in

denial of death
E.g. Ernest Becker (1925-1974) John Bowker (1935-):
creation myths invert death
control anxiety arises from extinction (personality/ interpersonal
(Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death, 1974; Bowker, John.
The Meanings of Death, 1991)
From google images

monolithic view of religion and its purpose/ essence

lacks nuanced view of purposes and types of death ritual
The Dead and Society
Some scholars emphasize the relationship of body & society
James Frazer (1854-1941)
Study of magic
Like produces like:
Death produces death
dead are contagious
contain essence of death
Robert Hertz (1882-1915)
Society links all members
Death ritual continues the link
Living > dead > ancestor
Bodies > represent linkage (double burial: wet; dry)
Makes death positive
Very influential on later studies of rites, van Gennep, etc.
Walter Goldschmidt (1913-)
Bodies not important The Tate
Warding off death not the dead Sebei tribe
(Frazer, The Golden Bough; Hertz, A Contribution to the Study of the Collective Representation of Death, in Rodney Needham and
Claudia Needham (eds), Death and the Right Hand, 1960 (1st published 1905-1906); Goldschmidt, Freud, Durkhiem and death among
the Sebei, in Kalish, Death and Dying: Views from Many Cultures, 1980)
Generally based in sociological/ anthropological studies of one culture
Theories of Death

Some scholars make theories about types of death

J. S. Cumpsty (????)
Nature religion: dead > ancestors
Withdrawal religion: dead > reincarnated
Secular world affirming religion: dead > heaven

Also: moves away from religion as overcoming death to religion as belonging

social network
Vs. Becker & Bowker
(J.S. Cumpsty, Religion as Belonging: A General Theory of Religion, 1991)
Simplistic overview of religion/ death
From google images
One size fits all package
Which approaches are useful?

Overview the previous views:

Becker/ Bowker: death as origin of religion
Frazer: humans see death in dead via magic
Hertz: ritual represents way we relate to dead
Goldschmidt: no one really worried about dead but death
Cumpsty: different religions classify death by type

2 Questions:
Which approaches/ answers do you think are most insightful
or useful or appealing? Why?
Which approaches/ answers do you find least satisfactory?
More detail:

Bloch: ritual subverts/ transcends death

Baumann: all culture is hiding from death

Aries: historical development

Chidester: types of death
From google images

Davies and Modern/ Post-modern Death

Zygmunt Baumann (1925-) (1)

Death is so big it may swamp human will

to live
No ordinary social life possible if we dwell
on it
Death cannot be perceived; still less
visualized or 'represented (p. 2)
Death is an absolute nothing and absolute
nothing makes no sense (p. 2)
Baumann (2)
no one believes in his own death
The unconscious behaves as if it were immortal
From Thoughts for the Times of War and Death, pp.
77 & 85
Language of death:
Passed on/ away
Dead = departed
Baumann (3): must control

Lose motive to live if we dwell on for too long

Hide death place it under control
Death rites keep its impact to a minimum
Branislow Maliowski religion helps give sense of hope
not despair
Funerary rites uplift (Durkheim)
Culture (especially religion) hides death
Supplement death instinct with life instinct
thanatos and libido
Death ritual removes them from world of living
Baumann (4): methods of
Make dead cease to exist
Exclude them:
Place in care of licensed professionals
Like insane, ill, criminals
Deny substance of death
1) human finitude does not count
Death doesnt stop we continue Hindu
Judaist covenant with God = important; personal death as
nothing when measured against long conversation with God
2) insist against the odds in individual existence
Totalitarian/ Nationalist surrender individual life for lasting
Maurice Bloch (1939-) (1)

Death leads to higher life:

Contradicts natural order
Death becomes life
Many initiatory rituals = symbolic death
Hindu renouncer traditions
(Early) Christian baptism
Term (for ritual passage):
Rebounding violence
Rebounding conquest
Bloch (2)

People are born, grow old and die

Is this the only way to conceive of the natural order?
Can we subvert/ transcend this?
Extends sociological/anthropological theories
Durkheim funeral reintegrates society
Damage not just repaired subverted
Malinowski bereaved need support
Damage not just ignored subverted
Van Gennep rites of passage mark progress
Not just social markers power to leap beyond
Baumann vs. Bloch

What do you think of Baumann?
What critique would you suggest?
What do you think of Bloch?
What critique would you suggest?
Compare/ contrast Baumann & Bloch:
Do they conflict: which side is stronger?
Can they complement each other: how?
Phillipe Aries (1914-1984)

Tame Death
Early church to early medieval
Death of the Self From google images
High Medieval
Remote Death
C 16th to C 18th
Death of the Other
Death Denied
C 20th
Tame Death
Attitudes to death
Death = near and constant
Focus on community
No surprise, calmly accepted
Non-threatening opposite of wild force http://www.biblepl
Burial and bodies ica.htm

Mass graves bones dug up to charnels - lessons

Cemeteries near churches
Cemeteries = public squares
Near martyrs basillicas
Change from pre-Christian rites
Religious/ Spiritual/ Symbolic Aspects
Death = sleep till 2nd coming
Death of the Self
Attitudes to death
Black Death made it uncontrollable
Growing sense of individualism
Focus on dying person
Moment of death true self revealed
Ars Moriendi
Burial and bodies
Rich in coffin with marked grave
Sense of individual marked grave
Poor in common grave
From google images
New fascination with dead body revulsion
Cover face of corpse; hide body in shroud/coffin, even coffin with
cloth (pall)
Religious/ Spiritual/ Symbolic Aspects
Model of death from 2nd Coming (C 11th) to Last Judgement (12th)
To heaven or hell purgatory
May involved suffering fear of personal salvation
Patron saint and devil
Final moment = significant (Jew: Shema; Muslim: divine name; Pure
Land Buddhist: Namo Omitofo)
Remote/ Imminent Death
Attitudes to death
2 great fears: sex and death controls decayed
Renaissance and Reformation death loosed
Tame > untamed, wild, invasive
Rise of science and secularization remote
Beginnings of medicalization of death
Put it out of mind
Natural, not supernatural
Natural, but frightening From google images

Natural so face calmly seek beautiful/ edifying death

Ambivalence - Paradox
Burial and bodies
Cemeteries away from churches just burial grounds
Fascination with cadaver dissection = fashionable art
Survivors keep some part (heart/ hair)
Religious/ Spiritual/ Symbolic Aspects
More unsure
Death of the Other
Attitudes to death
Shift of emphasis from self to other
Grief and bereavement concern
Death romanticized
To be reunited with beloved new, but now taken for granted
Hide death under mask of beauty
Death untamed feelings almost out of control limit to few family members
Burial and bodies
Dead become pseudo-living
Graveyards = haunted and frightening
Houses also haunted
Romantic opposition to odours
Opposition to burial in church makes it unclean
Graveyards out of town civic control
No mass graves next to each other, not on top
Mark place of burial ownership
Now centre of piety for dead
Tombs = places to visit and mourn
Religious/ Spiritual/ Symbolic Aspects
Afterlife = like this life
Mount Auburn Cemetery, Boston
September 1831
Invisible Death Death Denied/
Attitudes to death
Natural understanding dominant
Moment of death banished from view
Focus on survivors (or bureaucrats?)
Death is dirty and indecent
Continuation of death of other emphasize our response
If we are uncomfortable death may be removed
Little time marked by society brief funeral stop but continues
Mourning = morbid, even pathological
Refusal to share suffering of bereaved
Not decent in public mourners to private sphere expressed in private
Medicalization death banished from home
Burial and bodies
Coffins become caskets (cask)
Attempt to make dead seem alive sleeping
Cadaver no longer frightening or beautiful not dead
Death in hands of hospital and undertakers
3 main aspects:
Dying person deprived of his/ her own death From google images
Mourning is denied
New funerary rites, e.g. embalming

Major importance in death studies

Modern death = wild death

Relation to modern/ post-modern

Aries - summary

Tame Death
Death near and constant; Divine Will; Public; Church
Death of the Self
Uncontrollable; focus on self; reminders; direct eschatology
Remote Death
Control (sex and death); medicalize/ classify; natural; remove from
Death of the Other
Romanticize; reunite with beloved; markers on graves; afterlife
Death Denied
Privatized; vanished; dirty/ indecent; failure; mourning denied
David Chidester (1952-)

3 deaths:
Biological death
Psychological death
Sociological death
4 transcendences:
Ancestral transcendence
Experiential transcendence
Cultural transcendence
Mythic transcendence
Biological death

Various ways to measure

Reduction of temperature
Algor mortis
Skin turns purple-red
Livor mortis
Body becomes rigid
Rigor mortis
Psychological Death

It is indeed impossible to imagine our own death

and whenever we attempt to do so we can
perceive that we are in fact still present as
spectators (Freud, 1915, p. 305)
Freud: 2 options acceptance or denial (p. 315)
Recent analysis: symbols of continuity can have
therapeutic role, not just neurosis
Like a human life, a human death is
meaningful (Chidester, p. 8)
Sociological Death

Disruptive effects of death restore social

Social death: slavery slave death = non-
human death in some cultures; banishment;
excommunication; prison; asylum; hospital
Ancestral Transcendence

Overcome biological death live on through

Ancestor worship clan totem shared i/d with
first ancestor law giver
Contact ancestors dreams, ritual, death
Abrahamic faiths
Shraddha rituals
China and Japan and filial piety
Experiential Transcendence

Overcomes psychological death tranquillity

Accept as extinction: Epicurus (324-270 BCE) no pain
therefore no fear > Lucretius (99-55 BCE)
Kubler-Ross: denial > acceptance promised an
experiential transcendence of death
Ecstatic versions: shamans, die and reborn; journey to
world of dead
Visionary journeys: Tibetan Book of the Dead; Dante
signify a transcendence of death even in life
Cultural Transcendence

Overcome social death

From family > society
Ancestor worship vs. cult of the dead (Max Gluckman)
Live in hearts, minds and memories
Death in battle immortal Gilgamesh Reagan
Immortality arts, sciences, heroic deeds, collective
W. Lloyd Warner: death rituals a visible symbol of the
agreement among [human beings] that they will not let
each other die (1959, p. 285)
Mythic Transcendence

Imagined personal survival

Some tribes dead to remote regions
Under earth
Sky Egypt 4,000 BCE
Geography of afterlife: Zoroastrianism 9 heavens, 103 hells; Buddhism, 14
heavens, 136 hells; Islam, 7 heavens and 7 hells
A) Continuity
B) Survival
Disembodied spirits
Spiritual embodiment
C) Evidence
Aries vs. Chidester

What do you think of Aries?
What critique would you suggest?
What do you think of Chidester?
What critique would you suggest?
Compare/ contrast Baumann & Bloch:
Which approach is more useful: history or typology?
Can they complement each other: how?
Is it useful to compare these two? Like with like or unlike
with unlike?
Some common themes

Life over death:

Douglas Davies (1947-)

words against death
Death rites and rituals are measures to ensure continuity and
They are, performative utterances ensuring that death can be
coped with if it is not seen as senseless and meaningless. (p. 22)

Words against death:

encapsulates a theory which views death rites as an
adaptation to the fact of death words against death are
expressed in books and lectures, they also pass into the
public domain through the verbal form of prayer,
blessing (p. 1)
Funerals = the ongoing and positive nature of human
identity, and of society as the cradle of identity. (p. 7)
Memorials = the inscribed messages on memorials
express not only a human past but also a hope for the
future, showing that humanity [is] committed to life.
(p. 111)
Back to Baumann

Culture is about transcendence

1st survival
Push back moment of death; extend life-span
2nd immortality

Modern culture
Deconstruct mortality
Dissolve issue into endless battle with diseases
Become healthcare issues
Post-modern culture
Deconstruct immortality
Substitute notoriety for historical memory; disappearance of
death; life = unstoppable now, endless series of oppositions
of transience vs. durable
Post-modern Readings

Nomads pilgrims
Continual recreation of self; collage
Immortality democratized
Politics, pop songs, Olympics = equal weight
Equality of opportunity
Hide death by crossing bridges
Everything is reversible everyone may reappear
Death is simply suspension
Death hidden by fact of recycling last years goods
this years antiques; retro; fallen stars and nostalgia
Different theories?
Davies: emphasize rites as hope
Necessary for humanity
To be human is to hope, to go beyond
We can overcome terror of extinction
Baumann: emphasize rites as hiding
Necessary for humanity
Everything is hiding, too awful
Must always be lying to ourselves
Question: Do they
make sense of contemporary patterns of death and dying?
contribute anything to understanding death?