"Death and the Afterlife"

Workshops, conferences 2016

  • Datum: 17.06.2016
  • Ort: MPI-MMG, Hermann-Föge-Weg 12, Göttingen
  • Raum: Conference Room
"Death and the Afterlife"
What does one do with the dead? Burial, entombment, mummification, or cremation hint at creative ritual possibilities that tell us how we care for the dead. In several contexts, the dead form an unquestionable social good that encompasses a number of tropes, such as designating ancestors for a family, configuring the nation-state on memorials and mortal remains, meditating on death as part of ethical self-formation, and so on. Added to this, is the whole range of beliefs in souls, spirits, ghosts, zombies, saints, and shamans that anthropologists routinely encounter, which testifies to the idea of a vibrant afterlife and puts into serious doubt any conceptualization of death as finitude or cessation. Conversely, the dead and especially mortal remains also entail vital registers of forgetting, of ostracism and of obliteration.

To touch upon these registers, whether in our personal or communal lives, is impossible without touching simultaneously on politico-religious issues of the most perplexing kind. Also, there is much that remains enigmatic in the capacity of new technologies of burial, cremation or preservation of corpses. The professionalization of mortuary specialists, once considered ritual and traditional, has taken on industrial and commercial connotations. Moreover, scarcity of space has made cemeteries an important element of city planning.This workshop invites you to reflect on the meanings, forms and effects of practices of disposal of the body and handling of mortal remains. It aims to bring together a fascinating diversity of perspectives on the body and its disposal alongside the lingering presence of ancestors, ghosts, shamans, and the like, which tell the story of a persistent afterlife. Through ethnographically situated studies the workshop will critically engage with current theory, comparative ethnography and historical inquiry to explore what analytical convergence can be there in the relations between the living and the dead.

For more details please contact vdvoffice(at)mmg.mpg.de.

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Friday 17 June

Arrival and Welcome


  • Jean M. Langford (University of Minnesota): Ghostly poetics
  • Paul Sorrentino (MPI-MMG): Ghosts in the shell. Photography and other technological mediations between the living and the dead in Vietnamese spiritual sciences
  • Tam Ngo (MPI-MMG): Bones of contention: placing the dead of the 1979 Sino-Vietnam Border War



  • Ana Mariella Bacigalupo (MPI-MMG): State violence and the traumatic memory politics of the Mapuche Undead in Chile
  • Keith McNeal (University of Houston): Death and the problem of orthopraxy in Caribbean Hinduism: reconsidering the politics and poetics of Indo-Trinidadian mortuary ritual
  • Arpita Roy (MPI-MMG): Carrying the skull: a study in radical Soteriology



  • Fabian Graham (MPI-MMG): Competing cosmologies of post-mortal existence in Chinese vernacular religion: societal influences and diametric oppositions within an evolving religious tradition
  • Mireille Mazard (MPI-MMG): Ghosts of ritual: human remains and ideological contestations in Southwest China
  • Eric Mueggler (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor): Songs for dead parents


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