Body Disposal, Decency and Dark Tourism

Religion, Death and the Senses - 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.
Alasdair Richardson [+-]
University of Winchester
Dr Alasdair Richardson is a Senior Fellow (Knowledge Exchange) in Education with a research specialist in Holocaust education. He recently explored the emotional labour involved in taking school children to Holocaust sites such Auschwitz (2021) and how best school children can engage with commemoration at Holocaust sites (2021).


In this chapter, we will explore death and the sense of decency in two sets of case studies; through the lens of dark tourism and Holocaust tourism, and through the disposal of human bodies considered Other with a focus on enslaved African people during the Slave Trade, and the tiny bodies of neonates in contemporary medical settings. Regarding the bodies of enslaved peoples, this will focus on Brazil, and Barbados and St. Vincent in the Caribbean. In Brazil records show that common graves were often used for enslaved Africans however, there were differences in terms of decency depending on where one died. In Olinda for instance, common graves mean side by side burials rather than a mass pit, and the given name of the enslaved person was recorded alongside personal information such as their marital status, place of birth and cause of death, although the inclusion of the slave owner’s name ensured that the recorded death was clear in assigning Other status. However, in Rio mass pits were commonplace and contemporary descriptions note they were more like a rubbish tip than a cemetery. In the Caribbean both archaeological evidence and burial records show that slave burials were not recorded, nor was body disposal in consecrated round. Despite enforced baptisms, enslaved Africans were routinely denied a dignified burial. The notion of what counts as worthy of a dignified body disposal can be seen in the treatment of human remains in the Holocaust, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and contemporary times through the ‘medical waste’ disposal of neonates below a certain age. These case studies raise issues beyond the sense of dignity within that time and space, to what makes a person worthy of remembrance, but also with the rise of dark tourism, where the line between fun tourism and respectful memory lies.

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Welch, Christina; Richardson, Alasdair. Body Disposal, Decency and Dark Tourism. Religion, Death and the Senses. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Jun 2024. ISBN 9781000000000. Date accessed: 26 Nov 2022 doi: 10.1558/equinox.43888. Jun 2024

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