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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.

Guest Lecture:

A new funeral option? Resomation – dissolving the human body after death.

May 1st at 6.0 p.m at Elvet Riverside Lecture Room 140.
DH1 3JT. (Opposite the old Three Tuns Hotel)

Mr Sandy Sullivan, founder and director of a company focused on the process known as Resomation will introduce this innovation involving the dissolving of the human body by the process of alkaline hydrolysis. Sometimes described as ‘water cremation’, this may well become an established practice in the UK, used alongside the familiar customs of cremation, burial, woodland burial etc.

What, then, of its background, origin, entailments, ecological advantages, outcomes, and the ceremonial possibilities for resomated remains? These questions will interest the general public, funeral directors, clergy, funeral celebrants, and local authorities, as well as people concerned with death studies, ritual, environmental-ecological issues, identity and human wellbeing.

Professor Douglas Davies FBA, Director of The Centre for Death and Life Studies, will introduce the lecturer, setting this innovation within current funerary practices.

Visiting Research Fellow:

Professor Auli Vähäkangas, Professor of Pastoral Theology, Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki, Finland is a Co-Fund visiting Research Fellow at The Centre this summer term 2018, and will be working, among other things, on issues of grief.

Auli Vähäkangas is professor in pastoral theology as well as vice dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Helsinki, Finland. She is the author of Christian Couples Coping with Childlessness: Narratives from Machame, Kilimajaro. Vähäkangas’ research has focused on those in the margins: HIV-positives and childless people in their communities. She has additionally done research on palliative care and on African feminist theology.


National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD)

The National Association of Funeral Directors’ Annual Conference and Annual Meeting is a must attend event within the funeral profession’s year – and the 2018 event is set to be no exception!

The 2018 Annual Conference is due to take place in Durham, at the newly renovated Radisson Blu Hotel. Each year the Conference confronts the latest issues facing the profession, challenges perceptions, engenders lively debate and acts as an invaluable platform for NAFD members to network with corporate partners, colleagues and associates.

The NAFD is thrilled to be joined by a number of high profile members of the funeral industry over the course of our Annual Conference, offering attendees a thought- provoking and educational agenda. Our keynote speaker this year is The Lord Dannat GCB, CBE, MC, former British Army Chief of the General Staff.

Professor Davies is giving one of its Plenary Lectures on May 19th on the topic of Identity, Dying, and Duty of Care


Cremation in Modern Scotland: History, Architecture and the Law, by Peter C. Jupp, Douglas J. Davies, Hilary J. Grainger, Gordon D. Raeburn and Stephen R. G. White. Edinburgh: John Donald (Berlinn Ltd.). Published in Association with the Cremation Society of Great Britain. 2017.

This 327 page volume is the extended outcome of an original Leverhulme Funded Project Cremation in Scotland based at Durham’s Centre for Death and Life Studies. As a genuinely interdisciplinary study it is notable that no single chapter author is cited as such, since colleagues worked together to produce the final product. Its subtitled topics are complemented by work on the theological and ecclesiastical history lying behind Scotland’s Reformation and ensuing funerary practices.

Changes in funeral practice provide a lens through which to inspect changes in wider social identity, values and religious beliefs. This book reveals how, in Scotland, as in other societies, death ways and funeral arrangements are closely related to other aspects of life, from religious beliefs to political convictions, from family relationships to class structure, from poverty to prosperity.

The book adopts an interdisciplinary approach, analysing particularly the part played by Scottish law and architecture. Until recently, Scotland’s 28 crematoria have been the ‘invisible buildings’ of the twentieth century, absent from architectural histories. The book analyses the challenge this new building type provided for architects: a building with no architectural precedent, at once secular and religious, functional and symbolic. From archives previously unstudied and from primary and secondary legal materials, it traces the development of Scottish law on burial and cremation. It will be an invaluable aid to those wishing to know the historical background to the Burial and Cremation Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament.

In just forty years the people of Scotland made a striking change to their age-old custom of burying their dead. In 1939, 97 per cent of Scots funerals ended with burial; by 1977 over 50 per cent ended with cremation. This book tells the story of this change. It interprets the crises in burial practice in nineteenth-century urban Scotland and constructs the very first account of how Scottish cremationists pioneered a radical alternative to burial.

Contact Details

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