Document Sample
Death Powered By Docstoc
					                          The Anthropology of Death
                               T/TH 2-3:50pm
                                 Asbury 203

                            Professor R.L. Upton
                      Sociology & Anthropology # 290A

              Office/hours: 221 Asbury M & W 2-4 and by appt.
                     Tel: x4699 or

 “Death has never been easy for humankind, and probably never will be, but
  the style of unease displayed varies dramatically from culture to culture”
                 David E. Stannard, The Puritan Way of Death

Course Description

There are very few things that are universal. There are very few physiological
phenomena that apply equally across time and space. At least that is what a
good anthropological perspective would suggest, and something that I truly
believe. It may be though…that even death, something that we think
describes a universal phenomenon, is not. It may be that it varies across
cultures. That we do in fact, die in different ways. Is death the permanent
cessation of all life‟s functions? Or is it more than that? What is it exactly

All cultures across time and space have perspectives, practices and beliefs
about what happens at the end of the physical body. But the social is always
interwoven with the physical. And questions abound - What happens when
children die? What about the elderly? Why do some people bury their dead
with shells and food? Why do some people refuse to bury their dead? Do you
have to be buried? What about mass deaths? Why do some consume their
dead? What on earth does it mean to say, “their” dead? Interesting.
Sometimes we can interpret and make death --sad, sometimes funny,
sometimes the worst thing ever, sometimes cherished, sometimes wonderful,
- sometimes we live in expectation of it, or with the very real knowledge of it,
or it takes us by surprise. It is a mysterious phenomenon. And there are
often cultural taboos about talking about death and dying, Again, culturally
specific rules govern how we think about the body.

However…and here‟s the caveat…there are some things that really do happen
to all of us. We are born, we need to eat and we will eventually die. No
matter what, or how, or why. We are going to die. How does a culture prepare
you for that? That the point of this class. We will explore how various
cultures think about the role of death in life, what people do to bodies at
death, we will try to be good anthropologists and try to compare all the
interesting and complicated ways that people understand what happens at
the end of life. Thinking about death makes us think about and carefully
consider the relationship between the social and the physical bodies we all

Course Expectations

I expect that this will not be an easy class. I mean that in the sense that we
all might encounter topics or discussions that leave us feeling uneasy. We
might read things or learn about things that we didn‟t expect or that seem
„unnatural‟ or even just down right wrong. I urge you to keep that
anthropological perspective – keep your eyes open and your mind willing to
learn and accept the ways and beliefs of others. Figure out what you believe
and be able to back it up. Opinions are fine, and represent our humanity and
ability to express sentiment. But a good argument is crafted and logical and

Come prepared. I expect your presence. And with interesting and informed
things to say. There is absolutely little point in pitching up and doing all the
work if you don‟t tell us what you think/know/feel/react to/hate/love and
know how that relates to the things we read and the things you write.

Other important stuff:

*don‟t plagiarize.
*don‟t cheat.
*if you are in danger of doing either of the above, or have no knowledge of
what those entail, just come see me. Everyone says this…but it‟s really true.
Why are you here? To learn or just to get through all the work? Enough said.
You own a handbook. Make sure you are familiar with it and that you never
put yourself in jeopardy of unintentionally not doing your own work.
Academic Integrity is paramount. Please re-familiarize yourself with the
policy in the Handbook. It will just take a second, but remind yourself of what
it is there for.
*go to the Writing Center. They are great. Really. This is a W class – you will
spend a great deal of time writing and the Center is a wonderful resource as
we all work on becoming better writers.
*be honest about how you think about what we read/talk about. No sense in
not being “you” right? I expect, above all, you all to respect one another.
*plan ahead
*be aware that I am not inclined to give extensions or grant happiness to
people who are not organized. If you are, again, in danger of needing more
time for something as a result of some dire event or situations, tell me.
Honesty is the best policy and try your best to plan ahead. In order for me to
grant any extra time to assignments, be aware as well, that penalties will be
incurred. This is not because I enjoy penalizing people, rather it is important
to be fair to others who you are taking this class with.

Course Evaluation
Everyone probably tells you this, but let‟s be clear: according to the DePauw
University handbook the grading system is as follows:

A, A-   grades reflect “achievement of exceptionally high merit”
B+, B, B- grades reflect “achievement at a level superior to the basic level”
C+, C, C- grades reflect “basic achievement”
D+, D, D- grades reflect “achievement which falls short of satisfying the
quantitative and qualitative requirements yet warrants credit”

What this means for this class is that work that satisfies instruction and basic
material will receive grades which reflect that basic achievement-C grades.
In order to receive B grades, your work must demonstrate superior work in
terms of your own critical insight, synthesis and communication skills. A
grades reflect exceptionally high levels of achievement and reflect a high
degree of intellectual rigor and carefully considered work. While I will
subtract points for errors or deficiencies I will add points for carefully
written, imaginative thinking and communication. Please let me know
throughout the semester if you have any questions or if any aspect of your
grade is unclear. This is a dialectical enterprise-a discussion between you
and I and the whole point is that we all get something out of it. One last
thing-your grade is based upon your own mastery of the material-it is not
based on how you compared with others in the class .

Again, it is a W course. That means that particular emphasis is placed upon
the skills you acquire and hone in your writing. Again, it is based upon how
you fare, the evaluation of whether or not you get a W is not based upon how
others do, rather it is on your own work. It is possible to pass the course and
not receive the W, however, if you are failing the course if seems logical that
you will not receive the W.


             5 papers: each worth 20 points, each ~5 pages long, min.
             10 death diary entries ~10 points each
             a midterm~30 points
             a final~50 points (this will be an in class exam)
             participation~20 points

      *this adds up to a total of 300 points. And I expect you to be engaged
      in class, we might not all feel comfortable at particular times with
      participating, but I do expect that you do it in a respectful and
      thoughtful manner.

      *books you need can be found at Fine Print and the University
      Bookstore, articles will be placed on Blackboard for you as well. Books:

      Corpse, Jessica Snyder Sachs
      Strange Harvest, Lesley Sharp
     What Makes Life Worth Living?, Gordon Matthews
     Dark Shamans, Neil Whitehead
     The Death Rituals of Rural Greece, Loring Danforth

     * articles will be placed on blackboard

     *we will also be fortunate enough to have guest speakers as well as
     view films that talk about death.

     *“death diary” I am asking you to keep a journal of sorts, collected
     periodically in which you write about at least five of the following
     questions (you should write about ten topics by the end of the
     semester, these are meant to get you going) You may choose to
     answer one of the questions several times, however there must be ten
     separate, discrete entries throughout the course of the semester. The
     diaries are due on: September 20st, October 25th, November15th, and
     December 6th. The idea here is that you have the opportunity to
     demonstrate your thinking across cultures about how we die. The
     questions you should consider, to get you started – and remember, you
     are not limited to these, they get you going and feel free to write
     away- this is a journal that is between you and me:

        1. what‟s the hardest thing about death?
        2. What‟s the easiest?
        3. Do you have to experience a death event yourself to be able to
           understand someone else‟s grief?
        4. When is someone dead?how do you know?
        5. What‟s the difference between death and extinction?
        6. Draw/paint/write something poetic about death.
        7. What does it mean to “take” a life?
        8. Who is allowed to take a life?
        9. Whose lives are more valuable?
        10.what are appropriate reactions to death?where?why?

Course Schedule:

August 23          Introduction to the course

August 28          read: selections from Remember Me, “Biodegradeable
                   You” and “Ashes to Ashes”
                   bring: something dead to class (or an image of it) – as
                   explained in class

August 30          read: “Death As an Organizational Act”, Dan Chambliss

September 4        read: “How To Know If You are Dead”, Mary Roach, “Dead
                   Man Driving”, Mary Roach
September 6     read: “American Gravestones and Attitudes          Toward
                Death”, James Hijiya

September 11    read: Death Rituals of Rural Greece. Chps. 1-3

September 13    read: Death Rituals of Rural Greece. Chps. 4-5
                Due: Paper # 1

September 18    read: Dark Shamans. Chps. 1-2

September 20    read: Dark Shamans. Chps. 3-4
                Due: Death Diary

September 25    read: Dark Shamans. Chps. 5-6

September 27    read: What Makes Life Worth Living? Part I

October 2       read: What Makes Life….? Part II

October 4       read: What Makes Life….? Part III

October 9       read: “Cell Life and Death, Child Life and Death”, Rayna
                Due: Paper # 2

October 11      read: “Every day is Halloween”, William Maples, “Talkative
                Skulls”, William Maples

Fall break!_______________________________________________

October 23      read: Corpse. Chps. 1-4

October 25      read: Corpse. Chps 5-8 [guest lecture by Dr. Katharine
                Woodhouse-Beyer, archaeologist who worked on WTC
                site, currently at Rutgers and a public archaeologist in
                Due: Death Diary

October 30      read: Corpse. Chps. 9-12

November 1      read: “Eat Me”, Mary Roach

November 6      read: [article to be handed out on ritual cannibalism]
                Due: Paper # 3

November 8      read: Strange Harvest. Part I

November 13     read: Strange Harvest. Part II
November 15        read: Strange Harvest. Part III
                   Due: Death Diary

November 20        read: Strange Harvest. Part IV
                   Due: Paper # 4


November 27        read: “Religion and Attitude Toward Physician-Assisted
                   Suicide”, A. Burdette – other articles on Durkheim‟s
                   Suicide and selective abortion from Sarah Franklin

November 29        [no class – Professor Upton will be at the Annual
                   Anthropological Association of America meetings in
                   Washington D. C.]

December 4         read: “Coming to Our Senses: Anthropology and
                   Genocide”, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, “The Dark Side of
                   Modernity: Toward an Anthropology of Genocide”, Alex

December 6         last day of class – wrap up discussion/final exam
                   questions handed out
                   Due: Paper # 5
                   Due: Death Diary

                   *Final Exam is on Wednesday Dec. 12 th at 1-4pm*


“Part of death‟s horror is that it too is a severance of body and soul and then,
 via putrefecation, the body‟s integrity” William Ian Miller, The Anatomy of

  clincal death “is the term used to encompass that short interval after the
 heart has finally stopped, during which this is no circulation, no breathing,
and no evidence of brain function, but when rescue is still possible” Sherwin
                             Nuland, How We Die

Shared By:
pptfiles pptfiles