There is much variability in human custom, ritual and belief surrounding death. By looking historically, we can see some of the diversity in human after-death related practices. These include how we have dealt with the dead and how we responded to those losses. This chapter explores some of this diversity. Its primary focus is on non-Indigenous North American customs and rituals, from the late 18th century through the early 20th century, and the key factors that influenced these changes. What is evident, is an increasing fear of death as our personal involvement with our dead declined, due to advancements in the field of medicine and the professionalization of mortuary practices.
After completing the chapter materials, you should have an understanding of:
- The diverse nature of death-related beliefs and practices in human history and how different cultures throughout history have celebrated death and mourned their loved ones.
- The significance of burial rituals that are symbolic of cultural traditions and sentiments often tied to dying and the afterlife.
- Changes in death-related practices from the late 1700s to the early 1900s in non-Indigenous North American society.
- The importance of the belief in the cycle of life for some Indigenous community’s death-related beliefs and practices.
- The key factors leading to changing death-related attitudes and practices in the late 1900s.
Questions to Think About When Completing Chapter Materials
- What role can bringing death back into life and public spaces, such as the way death has been depicted in art, provide an opportunity for stimulating changes in attitudes related to death and dying in contemporary society?
- How have your own views on death and dying changed as you read about the way death has been understood among different groups at different points in human history?
- How did moving death out of the home and away from the family likely impact the grieving process and perspectives on death?
- How did colonization negatively impact traditional Indigenous death-related beliefs and practices?
- Identify 3 things covered in the chapter materials that you did not know before. How did this knowledge impact you and your views of death related practices today?