Spirituality in Contemporary Funerals

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hull
Department Name: Social Sciences


Funerals are changing rapidly in contemporary British society but evidence is as yet patchy and largely anecdotal as to the nature of these changes. Secularising trends have been observed to have led to an emphasis on the grief and needs of the bereaved rather than the rituals associated with the commemorating and departing of the deceased; personalisation of the ceremony over the use of traditional liturgies; celebration of the life over the confronting of death. It is not known to what extent these new practices reflect a new engagement with spirituality and religion or represent a discarding of both. Further, the perspectives and experiences of religious and ethnic minority communities and their impact on mainstream social practices in the marking and management of death have not been documented. This project will explore the ways in which meaning is sought, ascribed and expressed in contemporary funerals and whether, and for whom, this can be termed 'spiritual'. The investigation will be conducted through 50 case studies comprising: observation of the arrangement meeting between families and funeral directors; observation of the funeral; follow-up interviews with families and celebrants. The final stage of data collection will comprise of interviews with the funeral directors participating in the project concerning the themes arising from analysis of the case studies. This is a qualitative study which will produce a large amount of data from different sources. Funeral observations will be recorded in field notes and interviews will be taped and transcribed (subject to permission). Date will be entered using NVivo, a software package facilitating the sophisticated integration of large amounts of different types of data. Analysis will use grounded theory and thematic analysis. The project will contribute to the further understanding of contemporary funerals as well as contemporary spiritualities and the juxtaposition of each. It will contribute to theoretical development concerning the management of death in contemporary society as well as the refining of practical responses. The re-theorising of death, dying and bereavement is an important development in contemporary sociology and psychology and the study of spiritual and religious expression in funerals offers a significant interdisciplinary contribution to this revision.
Description 1. There is significant evidence of beliefs, cognitions and practices which broadly correspond with contemporary understandings of spirituality.
2. There is significant evidence of the need to engage in personal meaning-making.
3. Personal meaning-making processes and practices are linked to recognition of spirituality and spiritual experiences.
4. There is little evidence of adherence to formal belief systems but considerable evidence of people drawing on religious tradition to imbue the funeral with meaning and as a vehicle for spiritual experience.
5. Ritual is an important element in social, familial and individual behaviours and helps to imbue the death with meaning for the community, the family and the individual.
6. Funeral directors play an important part in facilitating meaning while celebrants consciously help to create meaning; however, the extent to which bereaved individuals and families find meaning within the religious or philosophical stand-point of the celebrant or other overt spiritual framework, largely depends on their starting point.
Exploitation Route Further research into funerals and related aspects of death studies.
Further research on expressions of contemporary spiritualities.
Practice applications for health and social care staff supporting dying and bereaved
Sectors Healthcare,Other

URL http://www2.hull.ac.uk/fass/social-sciences/research/research-projects/spirituality.aspx
Description Training programmes for celebrants and funeral directors
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Healthcare
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description The research team has been approached by Putz-Roth Funeral Academy in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, to work with them on evaluating their provision. 
Organisation Beerdigungen Pütz-Roth
Country Germany 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Information taken from Final Report
Description Holloway, M., Keynote Speech 'Ritual and meaning-making in the face of contemporary death' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Holloway, M., Keynote Speech 'Ritual and meaning-making in the face of contemporary death', Emerging rituals in transitioning society, International Symposium, University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, 17 November 2015. Citation of work and consultation. A secular celebrant and professional trainer, Jeltje Gordon-Lennox, published a book "Crafting Secular Ritual. A Practical Guide", launched at a public engagement as a result of these consultations. Three follow on events resulted, one on the 16th of November 2016: Conference "Rediscovering Ritual: the senses and sensemaking in secular ritual" held in Geneva; 24 January 2017 Symposium "Ritual in Fearful Times" at the University of Humanistic studies Utrecht; 13 February 2017 was a book launch for the book "Emerging Ritual in Secular Societies" held at the British Humanist Association in London. Prof Holloway was consulted on the publication process and invited to contribute an endorsement of the book "Emerging Ritual in Secular Societies".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015