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Death, Lived Religion and the Crisis of Meaning

Panel Chair: Eric Venbrux | Friday, August 28, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Religion in contemporary Western society is characterized by the decline of apparent frameworks for meaning making, resumed in the concept ‘crisis of meaning’ (Berger & Luckmann 1995). This seems very much the case in the Netherlands due to sweeping secularization and individualization. At the same time we observe tremendous creativity in Dutch ways of coping with death, dying and disposal. In confrontation with death, the most important cultural values by which people live and evaluate their experiences are conveyed. It does not only present an opportunity for expressing beliefs and values but also an arena for construing meaning. How does this contribute to a new perception of religion? By presenting cases where varieties of religion and non-religion, particular contexts and actual death practices collide, we bring in the value of thanatology for the study of lived religion and spirituality.

Peter Nissen

Fading Vocabularies. Death and Religious Meaning Making in the Netherlands

In the last five decades the Netherlands witnessed a rapid process of deinstitutionalization of religion and worldview. Fifty years ago the country ranked among the European countries with the highest degree of church affiliation. This has changed in such a way that historians refer to ‘the strange death of Dutch Christianity’. Religiosity and meaning making have relocated themselves outside the institutional churches. But also among Dutch church members religious notions have changed radically. As a result the global meaning system to which Dutch people can refer to in situational meaning making has been weakened. In the paper this will be studied for three kinds of vocabularies: the verbal, the ritual, and the symbolic vocabulary. This process leads to a certain level of cultural aphasia on the one hand, and to the development of verbal, ritual, and symbolic creativity on the other hand.

Brenda Mathijssen

Dutch Funerary Practices: Innovation and Tradition

In the Netherlands one finds a hybridity of lived religion, whereas traditional Christian belief and church membership are declining. In this dynamic context of innovation and tradition, beliefs and practices of funeral participants are transforming. By looking at accounts of participants in “secular” and “religious” funerals, this paper will explore dynamics of religiosity in people’s experience of crisis in confrontation with death. Specifically, we will focus on eschatology, ritual elements, and situational meaning making. What afterlife beliefs are to be found among funeral participants? In what way are ritual elements perceived? Is it fruitful to focus on liminality to understand situational belief?

Frans Jespers

Belief in Reincarnation: a Dutch Case Study

Western belief in reincarnation has shown a spectacular growth over the past five decades: from zero up to almost thirty percent of the population (ISSP 2008). This western – originally esoteric – idea of reincarnation as a series of ever improving lives, a chain of learning geared to fulfillment, does not only provide comfort in this life through the certainty that there will always be a new opportunity, a better situation, and a kind of salvation. It also provides a framework for practices such as contacts with the deceased (by psychics) or retrieving memories of past lives (in ‘regression’ therapy sessions). Ideas on reincarnation are lively represented and discussed in popular texts and images. Through a selection of Dutch books and websites, this paper seeks to provide insight in the cognitive and emotional components that leading figures in the field of reincarnation have on offer for their followers.

Claudia Venhorst

Negotiating Muslim Death Practices in the Netherlands

Muslims in the Netherlands are mainly of migrant background and dying in a 'strange' environment is a rather intense experience that poses challenges for all involved: the dying, their significant others and care providers. This paper investigates how to gain insights in the ꞌlived religionꞌ, in Islam as practiced by a diversity of Muslims in this particular context, to arrive at a more detailed and penetrating view on their ritual practices and meaning making processes where death and dying is concerned. These ritual death practices are being influenced by the context of origin, by migration, and by their current context and are driven by ritual re-imagination and negotiation. They are reflected in and instigated by ritual narratives that weave 'webs of significance' that have implications for all major interpretive questions. This will be vividly illustrated through a case study of Dutch-Surinamese-Javanese Muslims.


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