Universiteit Leiden

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Social Inequality in the World: Tombs and Burial Places

  • Francisco Bethencourt (Charles Boxer Professor, King's College London)
Friday 8 September 2017
Gravensteen Lectures
Pieterskerkhof 6
2311 SR Leiden

Professor Bethencourt's approach, inspired by Pierre Bourdieu and Norbert Elias, searches death, not as a mere projection of social life, as Durkheim did with religion, but as a cultural configuration driven by social needs of reinforcing ranking, hierarchies, institutional  and political power. The division between life and death postulated by Bronislaw Malinowski, who saw death as a disruption to the community and a gateway to the other world, requiring rituals of reintegration, was challenged by Nigel Barley, who considered that life and death are twin faces of the same social reality. This lecture will tackle the social setting of burial places, as well as the distinctive tombs both within supposedly egalitarian religions and secularised states. Rituals will be touched upon, even if we all know that they could be heavily derided, as the eloquent cases of Petronius and Lucian of Samosata in the Roman world illustrate so well. Symbolic power in death is only too visible; Professor Bethencourt is guided here by Erwin Panofski in his analysis of tomb sculptures, extended to architecture and landscape designs of cemeteries. 

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