Finland: EASR & Cemeteries

Hietaniemi Cemetery

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We (Centre for Thanatology or Brenda Mathijssen & I) participated in the annual EASR conference ‘Relocating Religion’ in Helsinki. We were part of a panel on Imageries and rituals of modern death. Together with the other panel members and some others from the session we made a trip to the central cemetery. In the days that followed we were able to visit the countryside enjoy the endless days without nights (incl. mosquitos), sauna, Maija’s hospitality and more cemeteries!

Imageries and Rituals of Modern Death (I) & (II) (Chair: Terhi Utriainen/Maija Butters)
9.00-11.00 (Wed. 29th June), Auditorium IV
13.30-15.30 (Wed. 29th June), Auditorium IV

Shooting Death – Using Insightful Photography in the Study of Death Ritual
Claudia Venhorst (Radboud University Nijmegen)
How people maintain relationships with their dead provides an understanding of how many now make sense of their confrontation with death. How they creatively ritualise these continuing bonds will provide valuable insights into meaning-making processes in times when religious beliefs and practices are often no longer self-evident. There is an urgent need to map the field of ritualised continuing bonds: to identify the moments they take, the places they use, the spaces they create and the role of material objects that link the dead and the living. And we need to develop appropriate and accommodating methodology to do so. This is what I propose in a method of insightful photography that enables us to capture the intrinsic meaning of ritualised bonds with the dead that is not fully apprehended through existing – often interview based – approaches. I will introduce practicing photography (“shooting”) as an observation method and a research tool. This would lead to research initiated photo essays; sets or series of photographs that work together as a narrative that can be valuable when used for reflective purposes throughout the research cycle. The insightful aspect of photography not only refers to the end product (the photo essay), but also to the process: preparation, the actual shooting and to its presentation.

Relocating the Dead: Ritualising Continuing Bonds in the Netherlands.
Brenda Mathijssen (Radboud University Nijmegen)
Since the late 20th century Dutch funerary repertoires have been characterized by improvisation and informality, and traditional otherworldly afterlife beliefs have become vague and diverse. Furthermore, institutionalized places of remembrance, such as cemeteries, have lost their scope for meaning making for many Dutch (Prendergast, Hockey & Kellaher 2006). Influenced by religious change, the rise of cremation, and post-cremation creativity, the dead have come to reside among the living. This paper will discuss the dynamics of continuing bonds between the living and the dead in the Netherlands by exploring ritualised relocations of the dead through objects in vernacular spaces (Maddrell 2013). For those unfamiliar with the bereaved or the deceased, the significance of such spaces is often disguised by everydayness or hidden behind front doors. However, it is particularly in these spaces that the dead are separated from as well as integrated in the lives of the living. The ritualised movement of objects of the dead in such spaces will evidence how the bereaved distance themselves from their dead, how the dead are integrated in their lives, and how their relationships alter. It will illuminate negotiations of the absence-presence of the dead, the blurred boundaries between the living and the dead, as well as between persons and things. Attention will be given to the cultural resources of continuing bonds. Moreover, it will be asked how relationships with the dead relate to traditional afterlife beliefs.


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