SOC 326
Being Mortal Spring 2020
Division II

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One of the defining features of the human condition is our awareness of our own mortality. How do we cope with this awareness? How does it influence our social institutions? We will begin by exploring how social theorists such as Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Ernest Becker, and Peter Berger grappled with mortality and its significance for human social life. We will then turn to the social institutions that structure our confrontation with mortality today. How, why, and with what consequences has death been ¿sequestered¿ in modern Western societies and set aside from the social world of the living? What rites and rituals remain for coping with death and dying, and how do our cultural assumptions influence the experiences of grief, loss, and mourning? How does modern medicine¿which is oriented toward cure but must ultimately confront the inescapable realities of aging and death¿deal with mortality? How have hospice, palliative care, and debates over physician-assisted suicide changed the landscape in recent years? How do societies cope with collective losses in the aftermath of wars, disasters, and atrocities? Our focus will be on the United States, but we will also consider cross-cultural comparisons.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 20
Expected: 15
Class#: 3109
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: three 6- to 7-page papers; an in-class presentation; thoughtful and consistent participation in class discussion
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: if overenrolled, Sociology and Anthropology majors will receive preference
Distributions: Division II

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