Call for articles: Special Issue Religion: Birth and Death

18 December 2020

Birth and death are fundamental human experiences. Both life-transitions are meaningful and profound but can also lead to ambiguous feelings, negotiated in embodied, cultural, spiritual and symbolic practices (Hallam et al., 1999; Kaufman and Morgan, 2005; Mathijssen, 2018; Wojtkowiak, 2020). The study of birth and death as existential transitions, comparing and contrasting these two life-events from a ritual and embodied perspective, can reveal novel insights into spirituality and religiosity. In this Special Issue of Religions, we want to unravel these questions and explore new theoretical and empirical research on birth and death from multidisciplinary perspectives, such as cultural anthropology, religious studies, chaplaincy studies, medical and cultural psychology and psychology of religion and related disciplines.

The importance of studying birth and death from an embodied, ritualized and symbolic perspective relates to several observations. First of all, all humans are related to their own birth and death and often involved in the birth and death of others (Hennessey, 2019; Schües, 2008). However, entering the world, as well as saying farewell to loved ones, is not a linear transition. Liminal and ambiguous meanings accompany pregnancy and birth, as well as death and dying. Cultural, spiritual and ritual practices accompany this transition and accommodate possible ambiguous states. Secondly, both life transitions are related to spiritual and existential questioning, revealing what matters to us (Wojtkowiak and Crowther, 2018). Thirdly, rituals and embodied practices—varying from quotidian storytelling, performances, meditation and beautification practices to initiation rites and funerals—are grounded in the body, the senses and material culture. Gaining insights into the significance of embodiment, the physical and material dimension of spirituality has been underdeveloped in the literature (McGuire 2006). Fourthly, because of changing religious and cultural contexts, such as secularization, medicalization, migration and globalization, the way we frame and give meaning to birth and death are changing and leading to pluralistic and possibly conflicting meaning frames. Rituals at the start and end of life have also been changing (Grimes, 2002). What kind of challenges do we face in changing birth and death contexts? What can we learn about meaning making and spirituality by studying birth and death rituals? How is embodied spirituality negotiated in birth and death rituals and practices?

We invite scholars from different fields to submit papers on the following topics:

  • Rituals and ritualization of birth and/or death (such as pregnancy and birth, dying, death and mourning, commemoration, memorials, private, individual ritualizing);
  • Embodied spirituality at birth and/or death from theoretical and empirical perspectives (such as midwifery, chaplaincy or personal practices);
  • Social and cultural meanings and ambiguity surrounding personhood at birth or death from an embodied, ritualized perspective (when do we become a person/social being? And how is this manifested in embodied practices? See, for instance, Kaufman and Morgan, 2005);
  • Philosophical perspectives on ritual at birth and death (e.g., phenomenological approaches to ritualizing pregnancy, birth, death and dying).

Dr. Joanna Wojtkowiak

Dr. Brenda Mathijssen

Guest Editors

More information, click here.


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