Fall 1996

[Text] [Course Description/Objectives] [Course Outline] [Evaluation/Assignments]

COURSE TITLE: Death and Dying: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

COURSE NUMBER: Anthropology 368

INSTRUCTOR: Dr. Paul E. Voninski

OFFICE: 219 Mahar and 8 Snygg Hall

TELEPHONE EXTENSION: 3276 (Mahar) and 3055 (Snygg)


OFFICE HOURS: In room 219 Mahar, Wednesday 2pm-5:30pm and 8:15-9:15pm

(or by appointment)




Human death as seen from a bio-cultural perspective. A review of the evolutionary background and cultural responses to death. Cross-cultural examples will be given.



  1. To obtain a fuller understanding of the process of death as a biological event.
  2. To understand the pan human as well as the range of cultural behavior associated with death.
  3. To obtain a clearer understanding of one's own finality.



  1. Introduction, and purpose of the course.
  2. Definitions of Death--When are you Dead:
    1. Clinical Death/Brain Death/Cellular Death/Cultural Death
    2. Problems of definition and modern medical technology.
  3. Biology of Death:
    1. Theoretical Basis for Death and Life
    2. Death as a Process--ongoing from conception
    3. Death and Non humans
    4. Genetics, Behavior and Death-- we are all programmed to die, but we are not equally programmed.
  4. What is it Like to Die?
    1. Is it possible to know?
    2. What do we know--experiences of those who have died.
    3. Culture and the process of dying or is it possible to have a "great" death ?
  5. Immortality:
    1. An idea that refuses to die.
    2. Scientific/medical immortality--is death possible in a technological society?
  6. Demography and Death:
    1. When, why and where people die
    2. Life expectancy and life span
    3. Cross-cultural differences
    4. Disease and the human death--a review of the last two million years
    5. Social inequality of death
  7. Bereavement and Mourning:
    1. Theory and practice
    2. Cross-cultural examples with emphasis on Chinese and American practices
  8. Types of death:
    1. Right to die--suicide and eugenics
    2. Institutional death
    3. Homicide
    4. Legal death--death as punishment
    5. Genocide
    6. Technological death or which way to the holocaust?--War in human history
    7. Extinction or yes we can take them with us!
  9. Coping with Death:
    1. Cross-cultural examples
    2. Death of a relative/friend
    3. Your death
  10. Life After Death?
    1. Cross-cultural beliefs
    2. New research on subject
    3. Is it a useful idea?


  • Exams

    There will be two (2) in-class examinations. The examinations will test your knowledge and control of lecture topics and reading assignments--you will be tested on both.

    • FIRST EXAM - 10/16/96
    • FINAL EXAM - 12/18/96 (6:00 -8:00pm)

    Each exam will be equally weighted. In addition, there will be several short written assignments. You will be asked to write your own obituary, eulogy, epitaph, and will.

  • Writing Assignments

    Each writing assignment must be typed (except for the epitaph) and returned by a preset date. The assignments are to be completed on the following dates:

    You will be graded on the completeness of your essay and any errors of usage or spelling will result in a lower grade.

  • Points

    First Exam

    400 points

    Second exam

    400 points


    200 points


    1000 points



    Students will not be allowed more than two (2) absences from this course.




    1. E-mail and network (world wide web) usage class to be held Tuesday 9/11/96 5:30 -7:00 pm or 7:30 - 9:00 pm for those who need introduction to those electronic services. This class will be held in 211 Mahar.
    2. No class will be held on Wednesday October 9th., 1996 - I will be at a conference. Classes from 10/08-10/11/96 will meet for an additional 30 minutes to adjust for the missed class on 10/9/96.

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