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Unit information: Ghosts, Death and the Afterlife in 2014/15

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Unit name Ghosts, Death and the Afterlife
Unit code THRS20167
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Langer
Open unit status Open
Pre-requisites

none

Co-requisites

none

School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description

In the study of any culture, ancient or modern, attitudes towards death and the afterlife are of central importance, and representations of the dead, ghosts, and those who communicate with the dead reveal much about the living. This unit will take as its theme one of the most ancient and important of classical and theological subjects - that of 'thanatology', the study of death, its rituals, its narratives and representations. We will explore death, ghosts and the afterlife both in the classical literary tradition of ancient Greece and Rome (looking in particular at communications with the underworld in Homer and Virgil, tragedy and comedy) and in various traditions drawn from Christianity, Buddhism and Chinese religions (looking at e.g. the doctrinal, philosophical and cultural understanding of death and the afterlife, the process of death, reincarnation, ghosts, zombies, ancestors and hell beings).Students will explore the parallels of themes and motifs across different styles and types of narratives both literary and theological.

Aims:

The aim of this unit is to introduce students to the key issues relating to contemporary studies of death, ghosts and the afterlife both in the classical literary tradition of ancient Greece and Rome and in various traditions drawn from Christianity, Buddhism and Chinese religions (Daoism, Confucianism), and to explore the parallels of themes and motifs across different styles and types of narratives (both literary and theological), highlighting in particular common themes associated with journeys to the underworld.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students should have developed an awareness of the key issues in studies of death, ghosts and the afterlife both in the classical literary tradition of ancient Greece and Rome and in various traditions drawn from Christianity, Buddhism and Chinese religions. They should be familiar with a variety of contemporary approaches to studies of death, death rituals and the afterlife and be able to evaluate sources with reference to these approaches. They will have had plenty of opportunity to develop their oral and written communication skills both by contributing to discussion in class and in formative written work and a written examination. In addition, second year students will be expected to have developed more sophisticated analytical skills, as demonstrated in their formative written work, their formal assessment and in their participation in class discussions.

Teaching details

Lectures (1 x 2hr lecture per week).

Assessment Details

1 summative 3 hour examination (100%) plus 1 formative written assignment of 1000-2000 words.

Reading and References

  • C. Edwards, Death in Ancient Rome (Yale, 2007).
  • R. Garland, The Greek Way of Death (Cornell, 2001)
  • J. Davies, Death, Burial and Rebirth in the Religions of Antiquity (Routledge, 1999)
  • A. Segal, Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion (Doubleday, 2004)
  • R. Langer, Buddhist rituals of death and rebirth (Routledge, 2007)
  • B. Cuevas and J. Stone (eds.) The Buddhist Dead (Hawaii, 2007)

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