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Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century

by Candi K. Cann

Availablepaperback$28.00s 978-0-8131-6832-6
Availablecloth$45.00x 978-0-8131-4541-9
Availableepub$45.00x 978-0-8131-4542-6
Availableweb pdf$45.00x 978-0-8131-4543-3
Material Worlds
212 pages  Pubdate:   6 x 9  26 b&w photos

Publicity Inquiries: Cameron M. Ludwick

For millennia, the rituals of death and remembrance have been fixed by time and location, but in the twenty-first century, grieving has become a virtual phenomenon. Today, the dead live on through social media profiles, memorial websites, and saved voicemails that can be accessed at any time. This dramatic cultural shift has made the physical presence of death secondary to the psychological experience of mourning.

Virtual Afterlives investigates emerging popular bereavement traditions. Author Candi K. Cann examines new forms of grieving and evaluates how religion and the funeral industry have both contributed to mourning rituals despite their limited ability to remedy grief. As grieving traditions and locations shift, people are discovering new ways to memorialize their loved ones. Bodiless and spontaneous memorials like those at the sites of the shootings in Aurora and Newtown and the Boston Marathon bombing, as well as roadside memorials, car decals, and tattoos are contributing to a new bereavement language that crosses national boundaries and culture-specific perceptions of death.

Examining mourning practices in the United States in comparison to the broader background of practices in Asia and Latin America, Virtual Afterlives seeks to resituate death as a part of life and mourning as a unifying process that helps to create identities and narratives for communities. As technology changes the ways in which we experience death, this engaging study explores the culture of bereavement and the ways in which it, too, is being significantly transformed.

Candi K. Cann is assistant professor of religion in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core at Baylor University. She specializes in comparative religion, death, and bereavement and is the author of The World Religions: Essential Readings and Handbook.

With sensitivity and insight, Cann deftly charts a change in American mourning practices related to changing Western views of death as a privatized, bodiless experience. She brilliantly explains the rise of roadside memorials, car decals, and body tattoos as recent manifestations of first, a public seeking to mourn in a society that emphasizes life and hides death, and second, the removal of the body from the experience of death. -- Simon Bronner, Distinguished University Professor of American Studies and Folklore and director of the American Studies doctoral program at Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg

Cann argues that the way we grieve and memorialize the dead has shifted in
recent years. She carefully takes the reader on a journey that reveals the metamorphosis of memorialization and ways of grieving that are more private today, yet at the same time are brought out into the public sphere in creative ways via cyberspace, tattoos, t-shirts, bodiless memorials, and automobile decals. -- George Dickinson, professor of sociology at the College of Charleston and author of Understanding Dying, Death and Bereavement

This book will help many bereavement counselors and death educators widen the lens of their understanding of newer expressions of grief and mourning in contemporary societies that have often disappeared death as a physical and emotional reality. Virtual Afterlives includes a substantial notes section, bibliography, and index that make this book useful by itself but also fruitful for further study.

[. . .] Cann’s book has added new areas of exploration and significant comparative observations across cultures, including practices in Asia, Latin America, and Muslim countries. Her expertise in religious studies brings unique and helpful notations throughout the book regarding both traditional and contemporary ways that religious practices inform and sustain good grief. I hope that she may pursue these religious resources and insights even further in a future book. -- Omega Journal of Death and Dying

Virtual Afterlives introduces its readers to examples of innovative mourning practices that are embedded in ordinary lives and communities – it is essentially an engaging précis of grassroots memorialization.

[...] the analysis provided is sensitive, rich and unfolds with careful context and detail.

Not only does this work identify and describe trends in popular memorialization, it also uses evidence from current policy and draws on historical debates in the field to argue that these practices are a response to the disappearance of death from contemporary life. Traces of death, be they the physical dead body or manifestations of grief, have according to Cann, been banished from our familiar, daily lives. Therefore, the examples of popular memorialization the book explores have a purpose which is twofold; they are a means to represent the dead in the day-to-day space in which we live, and they also enable individuals who are experiencing loss to be identified as someone who is bereaved. -- Julie Ellis -- Mortality

Cann’s deep understanding of the process of grieving, both personal and academic, is reflected throughout her book.

[. . .] She flawlessly integrates the discourse of mourning—from Facebook posts to
tombstones to eulogies—exploring the landscape of bereavement with an eye for material culture.

[. . .] Cann’s writing is smooth, clear, well-supported, and well-argued. She engages with the academic scholarship of grief in a compelling and effective manner, while also offering a book that is accessible and interesting. -- Western Folklore

Indeed, a particular strength of the work is that the author cares about the bereavement experiences she describes – the analysis provided is sensitive, rich and unfolds with careful context and detail. -- Mortality