X211 9610

Dressing the Dead: Discovering the Meaning of Mortuary Rituals

Course Description and Objectives:
Have you ever wondered why we have funerals? Or what other cultures do when they bury their dead? Or wondered what these mortuary rituals mean? This course explores how cultures have culturally and socially constructed the meaning of death. We will discuss cultural approaches to death, dying and the afterlife with an emphasis on the strategies anthropology and archaeology have employed to understand the significance of mortuary rites. We will compare and contrast a range of cultural systems to explore how societies in specific circumstances have arranged and created systems of meaning; including the Berawan of Borneo, Nyakyusa of Malawi, the Bara of Madagascar, and ancient societies such as the Egyptians and Inkans, as well as historic and current American mortuary practices. The format of the class will include lectures on central topics and key concepts but will focus on discussions of readings and the issues they raise.

Basic Requirements: Students are expected to come to class, participate in discussion, and keep up with the readings.


Keeping up with assigned readings is critical to participation in discussion as well as to your understanding of course material and lectures. In class writing will be directly related to assigned readings, you will not be able to successful complete in class writing if you fail to read. You will have approximately 100 pages of reading a week depending on additional sources and assignments of web pages.

Required Text:
Metcalf, Peter and Richard Huntington 1991. Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual. Second Ed. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Other texts on reserve.