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September 23–27, 2018

Death Culture in the 21st Century

How is the experience of death and mourning changing under conditions of growing religious plurality and secularization, technological mediation, and globalization? Cultures throughout history have deployed different media and objects to communicate with and remember the dead. At the turn of the 21st century, this assemblage is undergoing profound and rapid change. New (and revived) ways of treating the body and memorializing the dead are proliferating across global cities. What are the beliefs, values, and ontologies entwined with these emergent death practices? Are they indicative of new cosmologies or elaborations of persistent themes? Are we witnessing a shifting relationship between the living and the dead?

Empirically, seminar participants share a focus on emergent funeral practices, from the possibilities of an internet afterlife to the problem of “necro waste” under today’s conditions of industrialization and global warming. They are interviewing, observing, and tracking new behaviors and attitudes about the dead and dead matter. Metaphysically, participants will be asked to consider how religious, spiritual, and secular ideas about life itself are being reflected or generated through new technologies and practices.

SAR has supported seminars and publications that have approached death and dying from the perspectives of medical anthropology and bioarchaeology. However, none have focused explicitly on emergent funeral practices shared across globalized urban contexts, the topic of this advanced seminar, which brings together anthropologists (including two anthropological archaeologists) and other scholars doing qualitative ethnographic work in religious studies, sociology, and science and media studies.

Shannon Lee Dawdy, Chair
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago

Tamara E. Kneese, Chair
Lecturer, Department of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies, UC Davis


Generous support provided by the Annenberg Conversations Endowment