17. When Glaciers Die: Mourning and Memorialisation in Ecological Devastation

Religion, Death and the Senses - Christina Welch

Jonatan Spejlborg Juelsbo [+-]
University of Winchester
Jonatan Spejlborg Juelsbo is an artist, educator, and co-founder of the LungA School in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland, currently studying the MA - Death, Religion and Culture at the University of Winchester. His practice-based research is concerned with creating social structures in which cultures, languages, ideas, and beliefs become apparent, so as to understand them better as well as creating spaces for imagining and living in other ways, stories, practices and ideals that nurture the relational web comprised of both human and non-human beings.


In 2019 a funeral service was held on the mountain which, until recently, had been covered by the glacier ‘Ok’ in Iceland – the first of Iceland’s more than 400 glaciers to be declared ‘dead’, with many more predicted to follow in the coming years. This event, and many other like it, can be seen as an expression of a sense of loss in the face of dramatic climate change and rapid species extinction. Through the concept of ecological grief, developed as an articulation of the ways in which environmental change effects mental and emotional wellbeing, this essay argues that mourning and memorialisation of the loss of land(scapes) is a complex assemblage of acts of mourning, ontological positioning, political statements, and activist practice. Building on the work of Burton-Christie (2011), Willox (2012), Butler (2004) and others, in this chapter I will explore how a sense of loss and the responses of grieving, mourning, and memorializing can shed light on relational patterns and existing value- and power structures while potentially also manifesting, embodying, and nurturing ethical relationships with the other-than-human environment. While translating existing death rituals, such as a funeral, to a climate change context and human – non-human relations might present its own set of problems and complexities, this essay nonetheless argues, with Burton-Christie, that a sense of loss can be seen “as part of a restorative spiritual practice that can rekindle an awareness of the bonds that connect all life-forms to one another and to the larger ecological whole” (2011; 30).

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Juelsbo, Jonatan Spejlborg . 17. When Glaciers Die: Mourning and Memorialisation in Ecological Devastation. Religion, Death and the Senses. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 249-262 Aug 2024. ISBN 9781800504943. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=43891. Date accessed: 21 Jul 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.43891. Aug 2024

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