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Durham University Centre for Death and Life Studies

The Centre exists to foster and conduct research into life-values, beliefs, and practices that relate to living and dying. It seeks to encourage and facilitate interdisciplinary approaches wherever possible between the humanities, the social and life-sciences and medicine. It also benefits from the support of Durham University's Institute of Advanced Study. For more information about the Centre and its projects, please use the links to the left.




One of the objects of the Cremation Society is to advance public education in the practice and ethics of cremation. To this end it invites applications from individuals for bursaries of £528.00 being the delegate’s fee for the Cremation and Burial Communication and Education 2017 event being held on 3rd, 4th and 5th July at the Stratford Manor Hotel, Warwick Road, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 0PY.

The event is arranged by the Cremation Society and the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities.

Bursaries will cover the event fee which includes 2 nights’ accommodation. Individuals will be expected to meet their own travelling costs to and from the event headquarters.

Persons awarded bursaries will be required to attend all working sessions. Applicants must not presently work or have held a position within the cremation industry for at least the last 12 months.

Those awarded bursaries will be given one year’s subscription to the Society’s quarterly journal Pharos International in which many of the presentations are reproduced. They will also be given the opportunity to contribute an article.

Further event details can be accessed at and past years’ conference programmes can be viewed on the Society’s website

Applicants should write to The Secretary, The Cremation Society of Great Britain, Brecon House (1st Floor), 16 Albion Place, Maidstone, Kent ME14 5DZ, or e-mail, with their CV and an explanation of why they would like to attend CBCE 2017. The Society’s decision on whether or not to grant a bursary is final.

The closing date for receipt of applications is Friday 12th May 2017.

The National Memorial Arboretum. A talk by David Childs, CBE.

Friday, 4th March (5:00pm – 6:30 pm), ER145

Following a career in the Royal Navy, David Childs left in 1993 to found both the Leonard Cheshire Centre for Conflict Recovery, at University College London Hospital, and The National Memorial Arboretum on a 150 acre reclaimed gravel pit at Alrewas in Staffordshire. Planting began at the latter in 1993 with the site being opened in 2001 at which time it was adjudged to be the most popular Millennium project based on the number of individuals and groups who had given it their support. The creation of the Armed Forces' Memorial at the centre of the Arboretum, where those killed on active service since the end of the Second World are remembered, has raised visitor numbers to over 300,000 per year and the Arboretum is now recognized as the nation's centre for year round remembrance.

In 2003 David left to join the Mary Rose Trust for three years with responsibility for the creation its new museum. He is the author of five books: The Warship Mary Rose, Tudor Sea Power, Invading America, Pirate Nation and Growing Remembrance, the story of the National Memorial Arboretum. He was appointed CBE in 2003.

Prof. Douglas Davies has a new book, Mors Britannica: Lifestyle and Death-Style in Britain Today (Oxford University Press 2015).

Visiting Scholar Prof. Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme

The Tomb as Communicative Space in early Judaism and Early Christianity: Project Presentation

Thursday, 18th February (5:00pm – 7:00pm), ER157

The purpose of this project is to investigate the tomb as a place of communication in an early Jewish and Christian context, focusing on funerary inscriptions and graffiti as well as funerary rites and practices. It is hoped that the project, by demonstrating the importance of the tomb as communicative space, will yield a fuller understanding of the social world and world view of the early Jews and Christians.

The theoretical basis for the investigation rests on three notions, which have gained substantial support in recent years within the fields of archaeology and social anthropology; first, archaeologists have argued that the social spheres connected with certain archaeological contexts such as ‘funerary,’ ‘cultic,’ and ‘domestic’ are to a very large extent overlapping and that for instance a funerary context is more socially significant than what is generally assumed.

Secondly, and along the same lines, anthropologists are emphasizing the ‘social existence’ of the corpse and the agency of the deceased in the social world. The dead are increasingly described as significant actors in the world of the living and thus the tomb becomes an important locus for social interaction – both between the living and the living and the dead.

Finally, recent developments in ritual studies have brought about a focus on rituals as actions. This provides us with the theoretical implements to view ritual as a category of actions that structurally mirror social actions, but with the one significant difference that the receiver of the action is a so called ‘counterintuitive being,’ such as a deity, a demon or a deceased family member.

The combination of these three theoretical strands allows us to interpret the tomb as a social arena and as a communicative space, where a corporeal engagement and social exchange between the living and the dead takes place and where memory is strategically created. The mode of action in this space is ritual, which we are informed of by architecture, artefacts, inscriptions and literary sources.

The project is part of a larger investigation of the roles played by ritual in the emergence of early Christian religion.
Please visit the project’s website here:

Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme, Professor (with special responsibilities) of Biblical Studies, University of Copenhagen, and University Researcher, Helsinki University

Recent Debates

House of Commons Hosts Memorial Debate

On March 12th 2015 Prof. Douglas Davies was invited to speak at a debate hosted at the House of Commons on behalf of the Memorial Awareness Board and National Association of Memorial Masons. The motion was, 'This House believes that Local Authorities should not compete commercially against their council tax and rate payers'. This topic relates to the Localism Act of 2011 which allows Local Authorities, if they so wished, to engage in the provision of, amongst other things, gravestone memorials.

This new option is of obvious interest to Memorial Masons and Funeral Directors who are the usual sources of memorials. A very lively debate ensued amongst the sixty or so funeral and memorial professionals present, as well as a small representation of Local Authorities. Prof. Davies had been asked to oppose this motion and was thanked by many for taking on that position which allowed the debate to air many deeply held views. It is very likely that these issues will be taken up with new Members of Parliament after the 2015 General Election.

Upcoming Conferences

International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) XXI World Congress 

23rd-29th August, Erfurt, Germany

The Director of the Centre of Death and Life Studies, Prof. Douglas Davies, and Advisory Board member David Eaton will be presenting papers as part of an international Panel at the 21st World Congress of the IAHR. Together with Prof. Ikezawa (Director of the Centre of Life Studies and Practical Ethics, Tokyo University), and Prof. Tomizawa (Dept. of Religious Studies, Tokyo University), they shall present the 'Death and Life Studies and Religiosity' Panel at the University of Erfurt, Germany.

More information on the IAHR's XXI World Congress can be found on their website, here.

Recent Activities: 2014 in Retrospect

Continuing Projects

The 'Invisible Dead' and the Development of Early Human Beliefs about the Body

A project of the Department of Anthropology at Durham University, the 'Invisible Dead' is co-investigated by Prof. Douglas Davies, Director of the Centre for Death and Life Studies, and Advisory Board member Prof. Charlotte Roberts. Initiated in 2013 and continuing through 2014, through examining archaeological data from Britain and the Levant, the project continued to provide new understandings of the emergence of religious belief and self-awareness, as well as charting changing concepts of what it means to be human. 

For further information about this on-going project, please visit the website here.


First International Death Online Research Symposium

Jointly hosted by the the Death Online Research Network and the Centre for Death and Life Studies, the symposium welcomed speakers and guests from Australia, Norway, Sweden, The Netherlands, Estonia, France, Israel, the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The keynote speakers were Prof. Douglas Davies (Director of the Centre for Death and Life Studies), and Prof. Tony Walters (Director of the Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath), and presentation topics ranged from new ways of grieving through social media, to problems related to the inheritance of digital property.

For more information and a full list of the papers presented, visit the Death Online Research Network's website here.

Seeing Beyond in Facing Death: Spirituality from Sick Body to Salvation- Contents, Care and Relationships in Different Cultures

Hosted in Pauda, Italy September 25th-27th, and made possible by the support of the ESRC, Seeing Beyond was an international and multi-disciplinary conference which explored the cultural processes of dying and death representations, and analysed the different ways culture impacts care for the dying. Papers were delievered by two members of the Centre of Death and Life Studies: Its Director, Prof. Douglas Davies, and Advisory Board member Dr. Eunbo Shin.

With contributors from the fields of medicine, psychology, sociology, philosophy, anthropology and religious studies to name a few, the conference presented state-of-the-art studies and reponses to the question of the meaning of death and how its dealt with, focusing on the spiritual dimension and how it intervenes in care practices.


Encountering Corposes Today

This one-day seminar, funded by the ESRC as part of its Research Seminar Series programme, facilitated a multi-disciplinary exploration of death and disposel both in the UK and Europe. Presentations included: 'Care for Families and Loved Ones', from Bobby Hopkin-Hoggarth, North East Regional Manager of Co-operative Funeral Care, 'An Accidental Vocation', from Jenny Uzzell, an Independent Funeral Director, and 'The Ritual Cleansing of the Deceased: How Muslims Ritualise Death in a Migration Context', from Dr Claudia Venhorst, Dept. Comparative Religion, Radbout University, Holland.

The seminar was introduced by Prof. Douglas Davies, and was the first of an on-going series.

For more information on any of the events of 2014, please visit the archives here.


High and Uplifted: The Poetry of Woodbine Willie and the Philosophy of Albert Schweitzer

A joint venture between the Centre for Death and Life Studies and St. Chad's College, the event witnessed a conversation between the poetry and experiences of Father Geoffrey 'Woodbine Willie' Studdert Kennedy, one of the best-loved Chaplains of World War I, and the philosophy of Albert Schweitzer: a German theologian, organist, philosopher, physician and medical missionary, awarded the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on his philosophy of 'Reverence for Life'. The evening featured readings from the work of both figures, and discussion led by Prof. Douglas Davies, and St. Chad's College Chaplain Dr Ashley Wilson.

Centre publications

2012 Natural Burial: Traditional-Secular Spiritualities and Funeral Innovation. Douglas Davies and Hannah Rumble. London: Continuum. 

A development to come out of the AHRC-ESRC Collaborative doctoral award was published by Continuum in July 2012. This joint volume by Douglas Davies and Hannah Rumble is entitled Natural Burial: Traditional-Secular Spiritualties and Funeral Innovation. It offers a spectrum of anthropological and theological interpretation of people's choice of woodland burial while also raising numerous theoretical issues pivoting around ideas of 'giving something back' and 'not making a fuss', as well as the more anticipated issues of ecology.

2012 Emotion, Identity and Death: Mortality Across Disciplines. (eds) Douglas J. Davies and Chang-Won Park. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.

 This remarkable collection brings together a selection of papers delivered at the Death, Dying and Disposal (DDD9) International Conference hosted at Durham University in September 2009. It attests to the remarkable interdisciplinary and internationality of what is now the 'Death Studies' world, with the whole volume being framed by Davies and Park's brief Introduction on the importance of emotion and identity as partner concepts underlying these chapters as well as a great deal of work in Death Studies at large.

Authors: Tim Bullamore on Postmodern Obituaries (UK). Eva Jeppsson Grassman on Chronic Illness and Awareness of Death (Sweden). Eva Reimers on Nationalization and Ritual through the media, dealing with an 'honour-killing' case in Sweden. Tim Hutchings looks at aspects of Mortality online, and Arnar Arnason explores isues of 'presence', with much relevance for grief theory, in a Japanese context. Tamar Kohn's chapter on 'Crafting Selves on Death Row' (USA) is a minor classic all of its own, and much the same could be said for Jacque Lynn Foltyn on her emotion and identity and that of her ex-partner and families during his illness and death (USA) Christina MArsden Gillis writes on 'place, Art and consolation' (USA) in relation to family burial location. Then a clutch of chapters take us to the Netherlands on deathbed rituals by Thomas Quartier, Professionals and funeral management by Meike Heessels and 'designing a place for goodbye -the architecture of crematoria in the Netherlands by Mirjam Klaassens and Peter Groote. Eric Venbrux complements this cultural set with his account on new All Souls Day celebrations. Then we move to music and death in tweo chapters, one by Hyuan-Ah Kim on Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (essentially of universal application), and Wolfgang Marx on nineteenth century requiem composition. John Troyer completes the bopok with his provacative and insightful chapter: 'War without Death: America's Ingenious Plan to Defeat Enemies without Bloodshed'.

2012 'Ethics of cremation and Religion', in Handbook on Cremation. (ed.) Rolf Lichtner. Dusseldorf: Fachverlag des deutshen Bestattungsgewerbes GmbH. Pp. 55-73. ISBN. 978-3-936057-35-5.

 The Handbook on Cremation describes important aspects of cremation. The history of cremation is described by Todd van Beck, complimented by an article from Roger Arber about the development of cremation and statistical global cremation data and a description of the International Cremation Federation and its goals by the Secretary-General of the ICF, Henry J. Keizer.

The ethical aspects of cremation are predominately focused on in the contributions of the following authors: Professor Davies writes about the ethical foundations of cremations in the religions; Jan Gabriels, MD, is the author of the legal and ethical aspects of the use of metals after cremation; Shoji Eguchi’s contribution gives a detailed description of cremation in Japan; and the planning and operational aspects for crematory are summarized by Peter McLean. Several detailed contributions cover the technological aspects in a crematorium. Designs for furnace constructions (Dr. Gebhard Schetter, Dieter Zahn), designs for filter technology (Dr. Ole Petzoldt), emissions and emission control (Benjamin Wiechmann/Markus Gleis), developments in filter techniques for crematoria and saving energy and sustainable development (Andrew Mallalieu), measuring and control technology for emission control (Bruno Vater) and sanitary requirements at crematories (Dr. Gabriele Righi/Dr. Edda Guareschi) provide a broad and extensive overview of today’s technology. 

The fourth part of the book is entitled “Standards and Qualifications”, which includes articles about the standardization for crematories by Peter Plegnière, quality assurance for crematories by Svend-Jörk Sobolewski, professional formation and development concepts for crematory employees by Duncan McCallum, as well as educational aspects – now and in the future – by Dr. Rolf Lichtner.

Contact Details

Prof. Douglas J. Davies,
Director, Centre for Death and Life Studies
Abbey House
Palace Green
Durham, DH1 3RS, UK.
+44 0191 3343943