Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

10. Religion, Touch and Death; Ritual and the Human Corpse

Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

Christina Welch [+-]
University of Winchester
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Dr Christina Welch is a Reader in Religious Studies at the University of Winchester. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with research interests in the relationship between religions and material and visual culture, notably in relation to death; her research into Northern European erotic death art, and British and Irish cadaver sculptures speaks to this. She gained her PhD in 2005 exploring the role of popular visual representation in the construction of North American Indian and Western Alternative Spiritual identities, and has continued to explore issues around indigeneity and identity construction, most recently writing about the Garifuna of St Vincent. Over the past 14 years Christina has led the Masters degree in Death, Religion and Culture, teaching many death professionals from as funeral directors and death doulas, to embalmers and palliative are leads, as well as people just interested in death as a subject of academic study.


Eve Sedgwick in Touching Feeling (2003) states that touch provides understanding, and this chapter premises the notion that in regard to death, touch helps the living understand that someone has become a lifeless corpse. Death is perhaps the biggest challenge the living have to face and whilst touching the dead can be highly problematic in some cultures, it is not so in others, and how different religions deal with the dead is the subject of this chapter. The dead are religiously ambiguous; physically gone yet often spiritually still sentient, and as such a huge variety of rituals have developed to help the living cope with this ambiguity. To explore the ambiguity of the dead, and socio-religious norms of death, this chapter explores some theories around death before moving to examine a range of religious traditions and spiritual lifeways from a variety of time periods, to provide an overview of death and touch. The chapter is arranged into three sections. The first section explores touch and the wet corpse (the still enfleshed dead) in the context of a socially-good death (i.e.: end of natural life); the second section explores touch and the wet corpse in the context of a socially-bad death (i.e.: death from disease, suicide, murder); and thirdly section explores contact with the dry skeletal remains of the human body.

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Welch, Christina. 10. Religion, Touch and Death; Ritual and the Human Corpse. Religion and Touch. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 214-235 Sep 2021. ISBN 9781800500334. Date accessed: 11 Aug 2022 doi: 10.1558/equinox.42178. Sep 2021

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