Session 1: Cross Cultural Practices of Mourning
Chair: Rob Fisher
Embalming the National Body: Mourning and the American Civil War
Department of English, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
This paper will argue that the rise of embalming during and after the American Civil War signaled a historical shift in attitudes toward death and mourning for northerners and southerners alike. The rituals of antebellum culture were no longer practicable once the war began. The dead body was the focal point of prewar social and psychological rituals of burial and mourning that ushered the beloved to the next world while simultaneously enacting a separation between the community and the dead.
Wartime conditions, however, fundamentally disrupted these mourning rituals for the families of fallen soldiers. The mass scale of wartime death, coupled with the impossibility of practicing familiar mourning rituals, required new ways of coping with the catastrophic conditions of death. Soldiers’ bodies were rarely sent home to be mourned by their families and communities. Furthermore, it was very difficult for families to obtain clear information about their loved ones. Finally, as resources diminished, the burial of the dead became a tremendous problem for both the Union and the Confederate armies. Letters and diaries of wartime nurses, for example, often recount tales of parents who made their ways to the battlefields looking for the bodies of their dying or dead sons.
Only embalming, which had been considered an unsavoury and unholy practice ten years earlier, could return the corpse to its position at the centre of these rituals. Ultimately, the wartime need to retain the corpse’s position at the centre of the mourning ritual was powerful enough to override the disgust that antebellum Americans had felt over the violation of the sacred body. By looking at how nurses, soldiers, and families on the home front reinterpreted the work of mourning in the context of the war, particularly in relation to the technology of embalming, I will show how the war fundamentally disrupted the relationship between the living and the dead in American culture, particularly for northerners. My methodology will incorporate letters, diaries and memoirs of nurses and soldiers into a cultural and medical history of embalming during the Civil War.
National Mourning: Philosophy and Practice in Israel
Laura Schwarz-Kipp Professor of Professional Ethics and Philosophy of Practice and Professor of Philosophy, Tel-Aviv University, Israel
No abstract presently available
African American Population in Grief
Department of Health Care Programs, Iona College, New Rochelle, NY, USA
This session will explore the historical context for understanding African Americans in American Society. For many African Americans, the ability to cope with numerous societal assaults, including death and dying is linked with their world view as influenced by slavery and faith – the belief that trusting in God will get one through any adversity. The cultural context of bereavement will be established by exploring the role of the black church and religion in shaping African Americans beliefs about life after death. Consideration will also be given to African Americans who may not embrace the Christian belief system as practiced in the vast majority of black churches, but who, nevertheless, share a cultural world view about death and dying.
1. To identify the historical context of African American bereavement.
2. To identify and define key terms, concepts, and knowledge needs in order to understand the morning process of African Americans.
3. To increase awareness about specific cultural structures within the black church that facilitate African Americans’ ability to mourn.