Funerals in the North of Europe – similarities and differences

The roundtable conference “‘Death comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes’? Funerals in the North of Europe – similarities and differences” is arranged in Åbo 6–8 April. The organizers are the Swedish funerals research network, The Centre for Multidisciplinary Research on Religion and Society (CRS), Uppsala University and the Donner Institute for Research in Religion and Culture in Åbo/Turku, Finland. The keynote lectures are open to everyone.

Place: Åbo Akademi University, Arken, Fabriksgatan 2 (aud. Westermarck C 101) and online via Zoom: Please log in to the seminar with your full name in order to be admitted.

Time: Wednesday 6 April 2022 at 17.00-18.30 (Finnish Time)

Prof. Avril Maddrell, University of Reading, UK: “Equal in Death? The Universal ‘Right to Rites’ and the Experience of Minority Cemetery and Crematoria Needs in Northern Europe”

Dr. Paulina Kolata, Lund University, Sweden: “Touching the Untouchable: Death Care under Covid-19 in the UK”

Moderator: Dr. Magdalena Nordin, Gothenburg University, Sweden


Prof. Avril Maddrell, University of Reading, United Kingdom

Equal in Death? The Universal ‘Right to Rites’ and the Experience of Minority Cemetery and Crematoria Needs in Northern Europe

The first part of this paper outlines the case for migrants and minorities to expect appropriate physical and ritual space in European municipal and other state-provided cemeteries and crematoria. This builds on Hannah Arendt’s (1949) arguments about the ‘right to rights’, which has been applied to the human rights of migrants and refugees for example (Hirsch and Bell 2017) and more specifically in terms of the rights to certain death rites (Cumper and Lewis 2010). It is also argued that the security of the dead is a right, and lack of ritual and physical security for and of the dead constitute harm to the dead and their mourners (Maddrell et al 2021).This approach brings European commitment to human rights into conversation with the entitlement and expression of full citizenship within multicultural and post-secular Europe, in ways that can challenge and disrupt local-national majority norms and practices.

The second part of the paper explores case studies of minority experience of cemeteries-crematoria provision in smaller urban settlements prior to and during Covid restrictions. Minorities should not be assumed to homogenous groups, with the same needs and desires, but for the purposes of analysis, collective national-heritage and faith identities are used strategically. Municipal cemetery and crematoria provision also varies in Northern Europe (Nordh et al 2021) with varied implications for different faith and cultural groups. Key issues and challenges are identified within specific and across multiple case studies, e.g. the impact of a Monday to Friday working week for funerary services and the emotional-spiritual hurt of inadequate services; and the identification of good practice through consultation, conversation, self-help and co-production, e.g. weekend funerals and movable icons.

Dr. Paulina Kolata, Lund University, Sweden

Touching the Untouchable: Death Care under Covid-19 in the UK.

The pandemic has not only threatened human life and livelihoods, but it has also disrupted and drastically reshaped rituals of dying, body care and disposal, funerals, grief, and memorialization across the UK. Social distancing regulations and regional lockdown laws have inhibited rites of washing and dressing the dead, restricted attendance at funerals, and limited access to and movement in spaces where death rituals take place. Drawing on netographic research conducted as part of the “British Ritual Innovation under Covid-19” research project, I will consider the affective and practical transformations of death-related rituals under Covid-19 in the UK. The implications of these changes are still emerging, but voices of ritual leaders, death care industry workers, and mourners point to potentially devastating consequences. At the same time, communities across the UK have responded to Covid-19-related restrictions with great creativity and resilience, generating new and adapting existing ritual practices, while utilising and normalising new applications of technology in death care. By documenting the challenges and creative solutions employed to facilitate ritual death care across diverse religious and non-religious settings, I will focus on what happens when death rituals are disrupted and what makes adapted death care infrastructures efficacious and meaningful.