Dying in limelight at birth of new unit

September 16, 2005

The UK's first research centre devoted to death will be launched at Bath University this week, as more than 200 academics gather to discuss an increasing worldwide fascination with mortality.

The Centre for Death and Society (CDAS), due to open officially onSaturday, is expected to become the national focus for academic research into social trends surrounding death and bereavement.

It will host public lectures, exhibitions and workshops, with plans under way to create a MSc in Death and Society.

"There is a strong need for research-based information that can underpin the policy and practices involved in death, and support the work of health authorities, charities and private business on death-related issues," said Glennys Howarth, head of the Department of Social and Policy Sciences at Bath University and founder of CDAS.

The launch coincides with the university's international conference on death, dying and disposal, and follows the international conference on euthanasia held at Liverpool University this week.

Delegates at both events will discuss an increasing worldwide interest in how human society deals with mortality.

Jacque Lynn Foltyn of the National University, California, had been due to argue that death has become "the new sex in popular TV", arguing that in popular US TV shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Six Feet Under , "the corpse has become the star of popular culture".

The huge TV hit Desperate Housewives is even narrated by a dead woman while the reality TV series Family Plot features cadavers as main characters.

But while Professor Foltyn's thesis remains a key conference theme, she had to pull out of the debate for personal reasons.

The CDASconference will also examine trends in funerals, "death art" and the photographing of corpses, and "death customs and practices from around the world".

Dr Howarth said: "Public and academic interest in death has developed rapidly over the past decade, and people are increasingly thinking about death in new ways."

"People are interested in it as the new theme that has a bearing on everyone's lives," said Dr Howarth.

Dr Howarth insists this emerging trend is not morbid or sensationalist but rather a sign of a healthy acceptance of human realities.

Her collaborator, Tony Walter from the University of Reading, said that the centre was not aiming to enforce "openness" in terms of grieving.

"I think the idea of being open is a luxury for rich people," he said "What we saw with Holocaust victims was that the ones that dealt best with it were the ones who just got on with it.

"We're not a counsellor organisation."

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