I could use some help with a difficult assignment. I’m a sophomore taking an honors sociology class that has us do a mini-research project every week. This past week, the class was focused on trends in child birthing and childrearing, which was pretty fascinating.
This coming week, the class is going to explore death and burial ceremonies, which isn’t nearly as intriguing to me. Everyone is supposed to highlight any notable American trends and discuss the implications of our findings.
So far, I’ve come up with the increasing popularity of cremation instead of burial. Does that sound valid? A lot of the scholarly research is too dense to comprehend with confidence. Any help would be much appreciated.
Most people shy away from exploring the nature of death in society despite its obvious importance. While learning about life is certainly more exciting, that doesn’t mean the circumstances and implications surrounding its conclusion aren’t worthy of careful consideration, too. Take some of our earliest hominid ancestors, for example. In 2013, Ker Than at National Geographic reported that Neanderthals performed burial rituals to memorialize their dead. That was some 50,000 years ago.
While things have changed since then, ceremonies to memorialize our loved ones are no less critical to societies. In fact, almost every documented human culture on earth has some form of burial ritual or ceremony. Researchers at Cambridge University take it a step further and suggest that memorializing the dead serves a crucial purpose, especially for societies recovering from a collective trauma and/or conflict. The implications of such findings are impossible to ignore.
This should all make sense from the perspective of a social creature operating within a hierarchy of meaning. We are implicitly and fundamentally apprehensive about death not only because of our own mortality, but because of the suffering that loved ones must endure in the wake of our passing. That’s probably why so many people put sincere thought into their funerals.
The US has some distinct trends of its own. Americans preferred traditional burials for quite some time but that’s changed more recently. Josh Sanburn at Time wrote an article in 2016 declaring that cremation is now outpacing traditional burials. In July of 2017, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) corroborated the claim, reporting that cremation is at an all-time high. There could be any number of reasons for the trend. One compelling hypothesis is the increasing popularity of green burials and ceremonies. Others suggest that the relatively high cost of traditional burials is another driving factor.
Deciding between cremation and a traditional burial isn’t necessarily an easy decision, though. Writers at The Telegraph published a piece earlier this year aimed at helping people decide between a burial or cremation. They highlight several key factors that most probably overlook or discount. One aspect they don’t mention is the context of the ceremony itself. It’s easy to assume that all cremation ceremonies are the same but that’s simply not the case. For instance, cremation services in South Carolina or Wisconsin could differ drastically from those elsewhere in the US.
Personalization is essential for almost everyone, which is why the ceremonies are often as unique as the people they memorialize. That’s the other trend you might consider discussing with your class since it’s related to countless other aspects of American society.
“Death is more universal than life; everyone dies, but not everyone lives.” -- Alan Sachs