Anthropology of Death and the Afterlife
01/27/2005 - 05/05/2005
Thursday 06:30 PM - 09:00 PM
Fisk Hall 412
How a culture imagines death and the afterlife reveals fundamental principles by which social lives in this world are organized: power, morality, and what counts as health and happiness are coded to the logic of what draws or repels death. In ways that are often not obvious, cultural ideas about death infuse and instruct the most mundane details of social behavior, such as Brahminical dictates against contact with dogs (which represent Yama, the god of death) to Tlingit Alaskan use of entrances to a house (a front door represents birth, a back door represents death). We will explore cultural theories about what causes death, what constitutes the moment of death, the process by which the spirit separates from the body, ghosthood, the journey to the next world, and rituals in which the dead are fed and cared for by their living kin. We will also study funerary rituals and annual rites for the dead, to understand how cultures transform death's stark end into a cycle of life that is continuous with the larger order of cosmos.
Readings will emphasize ethnographic and ethnohistorical essays about India, Thailand, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, and Native Alaska, with forays into other areas of student interest. We will begin with Robert Hertz's pivotal 1960 essay on collective representations of death, which discusses death as a rite of passage, as a transition rather than a conclusion. Readings include: selections from Sergei Kan's historic ethnography of the 19th century Alaskan Tlingit Potlach mortuary ritual, Symbolic Immortality; Anne Fienup-Riordan's essay on how Yupik Eskimos incorporate into Russian Orthodox Christmas festivities their annual solstice rituals of welcoming and feeding spirits of their dead kin; Jonathan Parry's now classic ethnography of Hindu funerary rites and the complex social status of funeral priests, Death in Banares; Piers Biterbsky's enthnography of shamanic communication with the dead by the Sora in eastern India, Dialogues with the Dead; William LaFleur's study of fetal and infant death and rebirth in Japanese Buddhism, Liquid Life; Stanley Tambiah's study of cosmology in Buddhist Thailand, and selections from other ethnographies.
Students will be responsible for weekly one-page response journals, two four-page essays, one in-class presentation, and a final 10-12 page paper.
A syllabus for this course is available at:
Karen Anderson (B.A. Hunter College; M.A., Ph.D. University of Chicago) is associate dean of Continuing Studies and director of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at Wesleyan University.
Consent of Instructor Required: No
|Level: GLSP||Credits: 3||Enrollment Limit: 18|
Texts to purchase for this course:
Henry Chambert-Loir and Anthony Reid, THE POTENT DEAD: ANCESTORS, SAINTS AND HEROES IN CONTEMPORARY INDONESIA (University of Hawai'i Press), paperback
Geoff H. Childs, TIBETAN DIARY: FROM BIRTH TO DEATH AND BEYOND IN A HIMALAYAN VALLEY OF NEPAL (University of California Press), Paperback
Frederick Damon and Roy Wagner, DEATH RITUALS AND LIFE IN THE SOCIETIES OF THE KULA RING (Northern Illinois University Press), Paperback
Loring Danforth, THE DEATH RITUALS OF RURAL GREECE (Princeton University Press), Paperback
Ann Fienup-Riordan, ESKIMO ESSAYS: YUP'IK LIVES AND HOW WE SEE THEM (Rutgers University Press), Paperback
Sergei Kan, SYMBOLIC IMMORTALITY: THE TLINGIT POTLATCH OF THE NINTEENTH CENTURY (Smithsonian Institute), Paperback
William LaFleur, LIQUID LIFE: ABORTION AND BUDDHISM IN JAPAN (Princeton University Press), Paperback
Peter Metcalf and Richard Huntington, CELEBRATIONS OF DEATH: THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF MORTUARY, 2nd edition (Cambridge University Press), Paperback
Jonathan Parry, DEATH IN BANARAS (Cambridge University Press), Paperback
Nathalie Peyer, DEATH AND AFTERLIFE IN A TAMIL VILLAGE: DISCOURSES OF LOW CASTE WOMEN (Munster), Paperback
PLEASE NOTE: Instructor will mail to each student a photocopied packet of readings.
READING MATERIALS AVAILABLE AT BROAD STREET BOOKS, 45 BROAD STREET, MIDDLETOWN, 860-685-7323
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