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Representing Death and Life: Transitions, Diversities, and Contemporary Significance

Panel Chair: Masaru Ikezawa | Tuesday, August 25, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Death has always been an important theme in religions and Religious Studies. Therefore, when the new discipline called "Thanatology" or "Death and Life Studies" developed in 1960s, it was deeply related with religions and Religious Studies. However, this new discipline was not only a academic discipline, but also a movement of aiming to change the ways of death and dying, and in fact, it has been influential enough to change the contemporary scenes of death and dying. In this situation, it is not enough for us to make death the subject of our researches; it is necessary to consider the religious significance of academic discourses on death. From these points of view, this panel will try to re-consider the religious phenomena related with Death and Life Studies, such as contemporary representations of death, burial, mortuary practices, and bioethics.

Kana Tomizawa (Kitazawa)

18th-Century Obelisk-shaped Tombs and the Plurality of Funeral Culture in Colonial India: A Death and Life Studies Perspective

In the study of modern India, investigations of death tend to fall into two contrasting analytical categories. While representations of the death of rulers are analyzed as imperial functions, those of the ruled are the object of efforts to salvage them from elite history. Such post-colonial perspectives critical of Orientalism are important, but the complex history of mourning cannot always be reduced to such a simple dichotomy. This paper will focus on the complex history of obelisk-shaped tombs built in British India. Western obelisk-shaped tombs are often said to have emerged in the wake of Napoleon's campaign in Egypt, but we can find many obelisk-shaped tombs predating the 19th century in India. They developed as a result of a complex mixture of images from around the world, and their history shows that Death and Life Studies can contribute a new perspective to colonial history.

Douglas Davies

Lifestyle, Death-style and Worldview Studies

Within the context of 'worldview studies', this paper describes the new UK practice of ecological or woodland burial of the corpse and the place of the UK National Health Service as a kind of new sacred space involving a new kind of 'spirituality' that carries important consequences for ideas on assisted dying (assisted suicide).

Masaru Ikezawa

The Religiosity of Bioethical Discourses: An Examination from the Viewpoint of Cultural Diversity

Even in the modern and secular era our ways of thinking are, unconsciously or consciously, influenced by traditional and religious views or "feelings." This is one form in which religion exists in the contemporary world. This paper will discuss this kind of diffused religion by examining its influence on bioethics. As is well known, the underlying logic of European bioethics has diverged considerably from that of the United States. The approach of the former is represented by the UNECO Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. Henk ten Have, who was involved in the drafting of the Declaration, admitted that it was influenced in some ways by religious ideas. Currently, in China (mainly Hong Kong) there is a movement seeking to establish clinical practices compatible with Confucianism. This paper will discuss the influence exerted by traditional religion and culture in these cases.

David Eaton

Mourning, digital presence, and the space between spaces

Why do some mourners sense the presence of the deceased on Facebook? And what do their continued conversations reveal about contemporary British expressions of religiosity? This paper examines the phenomenon of digital presence through exploring notions of the digital embodiment of self, implicit understandings of digital ontology, and the significance of emerging online mourning practices.


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