A Brief History of Death / Edition 1

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The act of death itself and the rituals surrounding it vary enormously and shed a fascinating light on the cultures of which they are a part. In this brief and lively history, Douglas Davies – internationally acknowledged as one of the leading experts in this field – tackles some of the most significant aspects of death and weaves them into a compelling story about our changing attitudes to dying.

  • Offers a fascinating examination of this subject which is of enduring interest in every culture in the world
  • Considers the profound influence death has had on subjects ranging from philosophy to anthropology, through to art, literature, and music - inspiring some of our most enduring artistic highpoints
  • Broaches some of the most significant aspects of death, such as the act of dying, grieving, burial, artistic interpretations of death, places of memory, the fear of death, and disasters/tragedies
  • Weaves these numerous approaches to death into a compelling story about our changing attitudes to dying
  • Contains several illustrations, and is written in an accessible and lively style.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The author reveals himself to be a sensitive and humane guide, in a book that ought to fascinate anyone interested in the existential conundrum of human morality." Times Higher Education Supplement
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Douglas J. Davies is a Professor in the Department of Theology at Durham University. He is widely acknowledged as one of the world's leading experts in the history, theology and sociology of death. His books include: Anthropology and Theology (2002); Death, Ritual and Belief, Second edition (2001); Themes and Issues in Christianity (1998); Transforming Mormon Identities (1998); Reusing Old Graves (1995); and Church and Religion in Rural England (1991). He has also published a large number of articles on death, and contemporary Christianity.

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Table of Contents

List of illustrations.

1 Journey Beyond.


Adam and Eve.

Death, Sin and Atonement.




Hope and Faith.

To Be or Not To Be.

Traditional Futures.

The Uneasy Species.

Death Our Future.

Autobiographical History of Death.

Methods of Approach.

Words Against Death.

Myth Again.

2 Parting’s Sweet Sorrow.

Relationships, Death and Destiny.

Family Bonds.

Hell, Life and Work.

Secular Ethics and Loss.

Freud and Bowlby.


Fixing the Unfixable.


Aberbach and Charisma.

World Religions.

Identity and Religions.

Identity’s Demise and Death.

Adulthood—Childhood, Maturity and Death of Parents.

Moral-Somatic Links.



3 Removing the Dead.


Status and Destiny.

Ritual Change.


Secular Trends.

Changing Times.

Default Religion.

From Respect to Dignity.

Death-Style and Belief.

Cremated Remains.

Space, Cryogenics and Computers.

4 Ecology, Death and Hope.

Criminals, Heretics, Bodies and Belief.

Dying at Home.


Symbolic Bodies.

American Ways of Death.


Hope Springs Eternal.


Positive and Negative Dust.

Ethics and Spirituality at Large.

Death’s Paradigm Shift.

Ecological Immortality.

5 Art, Literature and Music.





Secular Strains.


Portraying the Dead.

Religious Fusion.


6 Places of Memory.


The Dynamics of Memorial Sites.

Locating Hope: the Dynamics of Memorial Sites.

Place and Hope.

How to Speak of the Dead?.

Location 1: Graveyard and Cemetery.

Hope 1: Eternal, Eschatological Form of Identity.

Location 2: Cremation and Remains.

Hope 2: Internal, the Retrospective Fulfilment of Identity.

Location 3: Woodland Burial.

Hope 3: Natural, the Ecological Fulfilment of Identity.

Memorial Texts.

The National Memorial Arboretum.

Lifestyle — Death-Style.

7 Fear of Death.

A Mythical Form.

Hinduism, Buddhism.


Albert Schweitzer and C. S. Lewis.

Essential Fear.


Modern Devastations.

Philosophical Fears.

Psychology and Fear of Death.


Fears Real and Imagined.

Contemporary Fears.

Imaginative Fears.

Fear Abolished.

8 Purposeful and Useless Death.

Power of Death.



Violence at Heart.



Suicide — Euthanasia.

Offending Deaths.

Illness and Death.

The Future of Death.

Christian Eternal Life.

Death’s Margins.

Age and Death.

Hopeless Non-Places.

2020 Time and Vision.

The World’s Death.



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