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Durham University

Centre for Death and Life Studies

Centre for Death and Life Studies

The Centre for Death and Life Studies (CDALS) exists to foster and conduct research into life-values, beliefs, and practices that relate to living and dying. The Centre 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.

 Centre for Death and Life Studies

COVID-19 Hub

We have launched a COVID-19 hub with resources for monitoring and considering the current pandemic from a Death and Life Studies perspective:

  • Reflections and analysis from the CDALS's Director and Associates.
  • A compilation of visual trackers depicting the spread of COVID-19 and COVID-19 death in graphs, maps, tables, photographs, and stories.
  • Links to analysis and news relevant to death and life studies in the following categories:
    • 'Good death' and 'good grief' disrupted in a pandemic world
    • Administration of death under pandemic strain
    • Inequalities in mortalities: how a virus and social systems combine to kill
    • Facing mortality in a life and death crisis

The CDALS's latest publication

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 (Birlinn 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.