Speaking of Death: America's New Sense of Mortality

Speaking of Death: America's New Sense of Mortality

Speaking of Death: America's New Sense of Mortality

Speaking of Death: America's New Sense of Mortality


In the post-9/11 moments, months, and years, America has come to develop a new mortality awareness. Death, and our understanding that it can be sudden and is certainly inevitable, is being talked about more than ever before. As the team in this volume shows through groundbreaking research, surveys, interviews, and vignettes, death awareness has grown strong, and has changed the way we think and act, not only in relation to ourselves and our loved ones, but in relation to society overall. Those changes include nuances from increases in the number and size of college courses focused on death, rapid growth of death books, death photography, television shows dealing with death, as well as the recording and dissemination of death videos from those that show family members dying peacefully to the execution of terrorists or their captives. Impromptu street creations to memorialize common people who have died have emerged, as have new ways to dispose of dead bodies, including blasting ashes into space or placing them under the sea or giving them a "green" resting place in a natural forest. Our means of grieving, coping, and beliefs about afterlife have been altered, too.


This book emerged at Columbia University from many meetings of the University Seminar on Death. the Seminar on Death was founded in 1970 by Dr. Austin H. Kutscher and is one of about 80 university seminars that link New York professors and others across the boundaries of institutions and departments. Each of the seminars manages its own program of monthly meetings. Some solve practical or intellectual problems, and others bring experts together to discuss other people’s solutions. the Seminar on Death has been concentrating on a subject that demands both practical and intellectual attention, coping with death.

Few institutions have thanatology departments, but many have experts in medicine, psychiatry, journalism, religion, anthropology, art, literature, or other fields who encounter the intellectual and practical meanings of death in ways that vary enormously. the Columbia university seminars are designed to turn such experts, who might otherwise never meet, into a community devoted to enquiry.

Some subjects demand a narrow, focused monograph. This subject is so loaded emotionally that it demands a book like this. the authors, and the University Seminars, hope that readers of diverse persuasions as well as philosophers, psychologists, social scientists, practitioners, and advocates will mine this book for the variety of experience, expertise, and outlook that it brings together on a subject that helps to shape our virtues and vices.

This diversity enriches the text of the book. For some, the denial of death generates all religion and almost all culture. For others it leads to outlandish . . .

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