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
Basic Requirements: Students are expected to come to class,
participate in discussion, and keep up with the readings.
- To introduce students to anthropological thought.
- To explore aspects of the cultural, social, and historical
systems which frame individual
understanding and practices concerning death, dying, and burial.
- To discover different ways to approach the study of mortuary
- To understand how common themes emerge from such rituals, as
well as interesting differences.
- For students to develop the analytical and communication skills
necessary for research and become comfortable integrating different
sources of evidence in an independent research project.
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.
Metcalf, Peter and Richard Huntington
1991. Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary
Ritual. Second Ed. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Other texts on reserve.