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Role of Cultural Context in Understanding Death

Analyze the roles of cultural contexts in understanding death.

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1. Analyze the roles of cultural contexts in understanding death.

Cultures play essential roles in understanding death through cultural and religious world views, which are played out through rituals, observances and practices that give meaning and understanding to death. And, different cultures have different rituals that play an essential role in understanding and accepting death, funerals, vigils, viewing of the body, body preparation for after-life, prayers, etc.

In fact, there are also different theories of how cultures understand death based on research. From a constructionist view, grief and mourning are both at the personal and communal level, and they happen in the interactions between people. Historically, in most cultures, myth and ritual (often religious in nature) provide the intersubjective space in which one can construct the meaning of the deceased's life, death, and influence over the survivors' lives. Narratives and interaction are also used in contemporary society. Depending on the type of culture, death is experienced differently (Neimeyer, 2001). For example, the meaning In more complex, loosely knit networks, such as in an industrialized city, most individual deaths do not significantly affect the larger social system, so grief loses any larger social meaning and becomes a matter of individual family and psychic readjustment (Neimeyer, 2001). However when someone like Ted Kennedy dies, it takes on National grieving process and rituals to mourn and show respect for the man and family of the deceased. And Christian practices give meaning to death for both the family and those that grieve the loss of a great national figure. It gives a sense of peace and understanding to the meaning of death when a family member speaks in terms of the person lives on and has went home to the Lord God. Death in this sense is celebratory, although the people left behind still mourn the loss of the loved one because they will miss the person in their lives.

In addition to rituals and practice that are culturally based, religious observances of death also aid in the understanding of death. Emile Durkheim argued, for example, that the collective representations play a major role in developing social solidarity and identity in tribes, ethnic groups, and nations, where grief and the rituals of mourning install the dead into collective memory as well as into the individual memories of those who knew them (Durkheim, 1979). In fact, the cross-cultural study of grief pertains to many aspects of life, including biological (the biological level, the instincts aroused by a significant death) and linguistic (the cultural meanings and use of the words that refer to what people call grief and mourning and that give understanding to death). Finding meaning in death often occurs in the interchange between individuals and culture through constructive narratives (Neimeyer, 2001) and through a series of cultural rituals play out, such as tribe, family, clan, subculture, community, cultural, nation and religious traditions (Barley, 1997).

Rituals and practices still lay a major role in contemporary society as grief and mourning provide meaning to death, but also play out one's cultural and religious beliefs about death, which differ across cultures. These cultural differences are summarized at some length below by the National Association of School Psychologists (2003):

1. Practices of the Native American Culture:

Native American observances also vary considerably in their traditions, religions and rituals, but there are some common themes among many tribes centering on the natural world - the earth, the animals, the trees, and the natural spirit. This is true even for those who have been converted to Christianity, there is an emphasis on the reunion with nature that occurs with death. Some common practices include:

a. The Medicine Man or spiritual leader usually moderates the funeral or death service. It may or may not follow a particular order since each individual is unique. In some tribes or clans, burial is not traditional.
b. Some tribes call on their ancestors to come to join the deceased and, in effect, help in his or her transition.
c. Most Native American cultures are not concerned about preserving the body and so embalming is not common. However, dismemberment and mutilation outside the natural deterioration of the body is taboo.
d. There is a belief that the spirit of the person never dies; therefore, sometimes sentimental things and gifts are buried with the deceased as a symbolic gesture that the person still lives. The spirit of the person may be associated with a particular facet of nature - animal, bird, plant, water, and so forth. Symbols of such spirits may be a part of the ritual in the death ceremony.
e. It is important to ensure that the burial of the person takes place in their native homeland, so that they may join their ancestors, and so that they may also inhabit the land to which their loved ones will also return.
f. In some tribal cultures pipes are smoked at the gravesites.
g. In some tribal cultures, there is significance to burying people with symbolic reference to a circle.
h. In some, there is significance in non-burial, but allowing the deceased to pass on to the other world in a ...

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This solution-guide assists in researching the roles of cultural contexts in understanding death and provides example of at least seven cultures. This solution is approximately 3500 words with four references and in-text citations.