How death is changing in the United States

(Credit: Getty Images)

From green burials to DIY funerals, death in America is changing, says Shannon Lee Dawdy.

What does our relationship with the dead tell us about the living? Anthropologists learn about ancient cultures by studying their burial sites, but could we do the same with contemporary America?

Those are the questions that Shannon Lee Dawdy, an anthropologist and historian at the University of Chicago, set out to answer in her new book, American Afterlives: Reinventing Death in the Twenty-first Century (Princeton University Press, 2021).

What she uncovered was a discreet revolution happening around American death rituals and practices, especially the rise in cremation after the tragedies of September 11.

According to one funeral director, there have been more changes in the death industry in the last ten years than the last hundred. And those changes reveal all sorts of societal and cultural shifts in response to climate change, COVID-19, and the personalization of everything, including DIY funerals and green burials.

In this podcast episode, Dawdy explains how rituals have changed and what they reveal about our society:

Dawdy also produced a documentary, I Like Dirt (2020, Zox Films) with director Daniel Zox. Much of the audio used in this episode comes from that documentary.

You can read the transcript for this episode here. Subscribe to Big Brains on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Spotify.

Source: University of Chicago