Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon Portland Community College

CCOG for ATH 234 Spring 2024

View archive version »
Course Number:
ATH 234
Course Title:
Death and Dying in Cross-Cultural Perspectives
Credit Hours:
Lecture Hours:
Lecture/Lab Hours:
Lab Hours:

Course Description

Explores cross-cultural variations in human responses to death and dying. Discusses the cultural universal of death from an anthropological perspective as experienced and processed by cultures and individuals in different regions of the world. Covers the history and development of contemporary U.S. views on mortality and health. Recommended: Introductory course in Anthropology or Sociology. Audit available. Prerequisites: WR 115, RD 115 and MTH 20 or equivalent placement test scores.

Addendum to Course Description

The course is a study of cultural and cross-cultural variations regarding human responses to death and their implications. The cultural universal of death is addressed in its diversity from an anthropological perspective. The subject of death as viewed and experienced by several major cultures in different regions and religions of the world is explored.  These regions include East Asia, India, Indonesia, the Middle East, Melanesia and North America. Historical trends in Western Europe and America are assessed regarding the evolution of contemporary perspectives on mortality.

Intended Outcomes for the course

Upon completion of the course students should be able to:

  1. Discuss the diverse cultural ways in which people interpret, experience, and respond to death and dying.
  2. Describe Indigenous and contemporary cosmologies of death and compare different cultural ideas about the journey into the afterlife from an anthropological perspective.
  3. Compare and contrast personal views about death and dying with at least two differing cultural perspectives.
  4. ​Discuss systems of power and social justice issues related to the cultural meaning and significance of death rites and rituals from an anthropological perspective.

Social Inquiry and Analysis

Students completing an associate degree at Portland Community College will be able to apply methods of inquiry and analysis to examine social contexts and the diversity of human thought and experience.

General education philosophy statement

Philosophy Statement This course complements information taught in introductory anthropology classes and focuses on cross-cultural perspectives on death and dying. The class examines values, norms, and ritual practices related to death around the world and analyzes their cultural meaning. Other topics include cross-cultural funeral rites, ethical considerations and social issues such as assisted suicide. Students taking this course will develop critical and analytical skills by making comparisons of different ideas and cosmologies of death from an anthropological perspective. They will also develop intellectual problem solving abilities by designing and administering a survey about death attitudes and rituals to a group of informants. Conducting this survey will also allow students to expand their knowledge of anthropological concepts, theories and methods. Another important aspect of the course is the study of values, attitudes and funeral practices of different societies around the world. Students will examine how traditional values, beliefs, knowledge, customs, ceremonies and perspectives about death have continued and been combined with new ideological perspectives. Students will also examine systems of power or ethical issues related to assisted suicide. By making comparisons of the values, ideologies, social institutions, and meaning of death and dying in different cultures around the world, students will develop more cultural awareness and appreciation for the diversity of human thought and experience.

Aspirational Goals

To apply this knowledge to help resolve both enduring and contemporary problems, including denial, in dealing with the reality of death as a basic human experience, to respect its different cultural expressions, to review its different interpretations, and to promote the recognition and constructive resolution of loss, grief and bereavement. 

Course Activities and Design

Course Activities may include any of the following:

  • lectures,
  • discussion,
  • text reading and review,
  • films and other media,
  • in-class exercises,
  • presentations
  •  guest speakers

Outcome Assessment Strategies

Assessment Strategies may include any of the following:

  •   term paper,
  • midterm and final exams,
  • short position questions on specific concepts,
  • regular discussion of contemporary issues,
  • oral presentations, 
  • service-learning tasks,
  • student-instructor review conferences

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 of and response to death.

3. The nature of funerary ritual and it's history and functions

4. Eastern and Western thought, classical and modern, on the subject of death and the implication of these on our own sense of mortality.

5. Varying cosmologies and their implications for living and dying.

6. Changing national and cultural patterns of response to death


beliefs, bereavement, closure, culture, death, dying, grief, loss, resolution, ritual 


use of rituals in funerary practices

cultural differences in dealing with death

Eastern and Western perspectives for the perceptions of death

Contradictions in the cosmologies of 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

Understanding the process of death and its corresponding loss and thus functioning  with greater compassion in living

Awareness of family heritage regarding the experience and response to death

Ability to apply a range of historical thinkers’ ideas regarding death to personal experiences and insights

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

Ability to reflect on the human condition in a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary manner

Ability to apply the above to real situations of dying, death and mortality