Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Course Number:
SOC 234
Course Title:
Death: Crosscultural Perspectives
Credit Hours:
Lecture Hours:
Lecture/Lab Hours:
Lab Hours:
Special Fee:

Course Description

An interdisciplinary study of the cross-cultural variations regarding human responses to death and the differing cosmological implications these suggest. Death, a cultural universal, is addressed in its diversity from both anthropological and sociological perspective. The topic of death as experienced by several major regions and cultures of the world is explored including Asia, India, Bali, Middle East, Melanesia and Native Americans; historical trends in Western Europe and the Americas are assessed regarding the evolution of contemporary perspectives on mortality. ATH 234 and SOC 234 cannot both be taken for credit. Recommend: A prior course in Anthropology or Sociology. Audit available.

Intended Outcomes for the course

The student will be made aware of the diverse ways in which people experience and respond to

the cultural universal of death. Crosscultural and crossdisciplinary study of this phenomenon will

invigorate and energize the student€™s learning experience. The student will have a better

understanding of their own heritage regarding death, as well as that of others. This course will

create the conditions to elicit not only an interest in the rites and rituals of others, but will also

create a forum to discuss the student€™s own perceptions regarding mortality.

Course Activities and Design

Lectures, discussion, text reading and review, films and other media, visiting speakers, in -lass

exercises, individual projects.

This course is intended to be taught in conjunction with Anthropology 234, Death: Crosscultural

Perspectives . Both instructors are present and participate simultaneously in the course

presentations. These instructors should have a clear idea of how they will mutually give and take,

acting with recognition of each other as they present the content of the course. They are highly

encouraged to make extensive use of films and guest speakers (e.g. Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic,

Jewish, Native American, etc.) as elements of their course presentation. A blend of film,

multidisciplinary instruction and a thought-provoking text makes the course an exciting learning


Outcome Assessment Strategies

The instructors will assess student learning through a variety of evaluation tools including

projects, quizzes and exams. In addition, instructors are encouraged to integrate the following

types of tasks and learning experiences to assess student achievement in a more comprehensive


Short position papers on specific concepts, themes and issues

Oral presentations

Service-learning tasks

Student-instructor conferences and work reviews

Video projects, oral histories and interviews

Research or term papers (e.g. how their families views and deals with death)

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)

Course Content:

1. The nature of death as a cultural universal

2. The diversity within and between cultures regarding the experience and response to death.

3. The nature of funerary ritual, its history and functions

4. Discussion of world historical thinkers on the subject of death and the implication of their

thought on our own sense of mortality

5. Presentation of varying cosmologies and their implications for living and dying.

6. Changing national and cultural patterns of response to death

Competencies and Skills Resulting:

Understanding death as a cultural universal and what this implies

Knowledge of the varied ways in which societies experience and respond to death

Awareness of their own family heritage regarding their experience and response to death

Ability to apply a range of historical thinkers€™ ideas regarding death to their own

experiences and insights

Developing a greater awareness of one€™s mortality and hence, living more competently

Understanding the process of death and its corresponding loss and thus function with

greater compassion in living

Ability to reflect on and approach the human condition in a crosscultural and crossdisciplinary manner

Recommended Text:

World Philosophers on Death, edited by D. J. Ciraulo, Kindall/Hunt Publishing Company, 2004,

ISBN 0-7575-0834-5