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Brill handbook of contemporary death rituals in Europe


  • Limit of 6000 words

  • The first versions are expected to be received in September

Dorothea Lüddeckens, University of Zurich, Switzerland (
Brenda Mathijssen, University of Groningen, the Netherlands (
Terhi Utriainen, University of Helsinki, Finland (

Main objectives:
The handbook’s main objective is to explore how people ritually deal with death in contemporary Europe. It takes a thematic approach and explores death rituals in a variety of multi-religious and secular contexts. The book moves away from, and offers a critique to, the World Religions paradigm, which is commonly used in textbooks and educational programs, as well as in studies of religion and death in many social science and humanities disciplines. Instead, the handbook explores the dynamic, lived and everyday character of contemporary death rituals and practices in relation to religious, secular and other worldviews. Furthermore, the handbook questions the categorical distinction between the loss of human beings and the loss of other (non-human) beings, including animals. Moreover, by examining the politics, differences and inequalities of death, the handbook contributes to the critical study of death and lived religion in contemporary Europe.


Summary of the content of the handbook:
Death practices have been of central interest to scholars of religion across times and cultures. Ritualistic activities around death are often interpreted as evidence of religious behaviour, and many scholars consider death as an important source of religious traditions, practices and beliefs. In a broader perspective, death practices have been understood as key to revealing people’s worldviews, including societal structures, expressions of identity and belonging, and notions of person, cosmology and ethics. This handbook takes the intricate connection between death and religion as a starting point, and aims to collect interdisciplinary insights about death rituals in contemporary Europe. Rather than employing the World Religion Paradigm, the book focuses on vernacular practices in relation to five topical themes:

I Authorities, experts and actors
II Media, digital death and technological changes 
III Inequalities in death rituals
IV Human and non-human death
V Arts and aesthetics of death

These five themes enable authors to explore how death rituals intertwine with contemporary socio-cultural changes. Furthermore, they reflect current debates within the study of religion, and allow authors to scrutinise new ways of meaning-making, performing rituals, conceptualising death and grief, or life altogether. 

From a theoretical perspective, the concept of ritual takes on a central position in the volume. Each chapter in the book relates to the concept of ritual and critically engages with ritual theory. Some chapters may offer empirical studies, whereas others may focus on theory, but each chapter should address both to some extent. This will enable us to critically analyse ritual practices in relation to some of the major challenges of the 21st century Europe, and contribute to novel insights in religious studies, ritual studies and death studies.

Innovative contribution and authorative source for future scholarship:
The proposed handbook is unique in that it departs from the World Religion Paradigm and the simplistic religion-secularity distinction. Furthermore, it engages with posthuman, embodied and intersectional approaches to death. Moreover, it is timely and urgent for the contemporary study of religion and rituals, and the wider Brill handbook series, as it engages with death rituals in their complex relations to current socio-cultural realities and in increasingly perceived precarious environments.


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