College Of Arts And Sciences | The Living and the Dead
E103 | 0030 | Campany, R.


Members of human societies, when they die, do not completely and
immediately disappear. From the perspective of the living, the dead
live on in a number of ways, and the living engage in many sorts of
relationships and interactions with them from the moment of death
onward. Religious traditions have sought to characterize the state of
being of dead persons and often provided ways for the living to
relate to them. The main question to be asked in this course is: how
are the dead conceived of, represented, and given a voice in
religions and cultures? Other questions follow from this one, such
as: What sorts of relations have the living engaged in with the dead?
What is each side of these complex relationships seen to want or
need, and why? How are conceptions and images of the dead related to
other aspects of religions and cultures? Through what variety of
media have cultures expressed their views of the dead? Are there
explanations for the many similarities (and for differences) in the
conception and treatment of dead humans across cultures and religions?

The course explores these and similar questions through a series of
case studies drawn from a wide variety of religions, cultures, and
historical periods. Materials include samplings from religious
scriptures and ritual texts (for example, the Tibetan Book of the
Dead, or a scene from the biblical book of Samuel); scholarly studies
from disciplines such as religious studies, history, anthropology,
folklore, and archeology; excerpts from the literary works, folk
narratives, and journalistic accounts (for example, the Odyssey
narrative of the hero’s journal to the underworld, or ghost stories
and “near-death” narratives both recent/local and ancient/Chinese);
audiovisual sources (scenes from movies as well as field footage and
slides of religious activities and tomb architecture); and a bit of
local fieldwork. A primary goal of the course is to introduce
students to increasingly sophisticated and interesting ways of
thinking, speaking, and writing about such materials, thus equipping
them to think and write about other complex aspects of religions and
cultures.