This-worldly afterlives. On the biosocial, material and ecological sustainability of the deceased (2023)

Mathijssen, B. In: The Sustainable Dead: Searching for the Intolerable. View extract

This chapter takes this transition from formal religious and institutional understandings of the continuance of the deceased to informal and individualised practices as a starting point. On the basis of in-depth interviews and participant observation it investigates contemporary engagements with the deceased in the Netherlands, and argues that we can observe a development from otherworldly afterlife beliefs which emphasise the continuity of the deceased in the afterlife, to thisworldly engagements with the deceased which affirm the sustainability of the deceased in the here and now. Affirming the continuity of the deceased in this world, the chapter illustrates, happens in three dominant ways: religious, biosocial and ecological.

Situating the Dead: Cemeteries as Material, Symbolic, and Relational Space (2022)

Maddrell, A. & Mathijssen, B. The Oxford Handbook for Religious Space. Open Access

This chapter explores the coproduction of space and religion through analysis of the material, symbolic, and relational characteristics of graves and cemeteries. Both space and religion are multifaceted: lived, relational, dynamic, performative, and processual. Cemeteries, deemed “sacred,” in formal or wider senses in many societies, embody mortal remains, provide a focal point for commemoration, symbolize continuing relationships with the deceased and any beliefs about the afterlife. Studying cemeteries through a spatial lens oers insights into contemporary lived religion and changes over time. Drawing on case studies, the chapter demonstrates the ways in which cemeteries oer signicant insights into the situated spatialities and wider geographies of religions, beliefs, and rituals. Varied grave-iconography and texts, and the spatial organization of cemeteries reect geographies of belonging, including migratory and diasporic networks and the varied ways in which different religions are lived, expressed, and contested in a particular locality and time.

Remembering, forgetting and (dis)enfranchised grief in everyday settings in English and Welsh towns: Migrants’ and minorities’ translocal and local memories associated with funerary spaces and practices (2022)

Maddrell, A. & Beebeejaun, Y. & McClymont, K., McNally, D. & Mathijssen, B. Emotion, Space and Society. Open Access

In this paper we explore migrants’ and minorities’ memories and memory-making associated with death, funerary and remembrance practices, with particular attention to how this intersects with experiences of migration and/or being part of a cultural or religious minority. The paper examines different spaces including bodies, homes, translocal networks, cemeteries and crematoria, centred on insights from focus groups, biographical and key participant interviews in four medium sized multicultural towns in England and Wales. These case studies afford an exploration of the complex and dynamic ‘ecologies’ of migrant and minority memories and sense of citizenship in relation to death, bereavement and remembrance spaces and practices. Participant accounts highlight memories of past practices, (post)colonial marginalization, disenfranchisement, changes in practices, the strains of transnational grieving, pragmatic compromises and collaborating to improve funerary provision as endeavours of everyday citizenship. These are explored through two broad interlinked themes: firstly, translocal memories of past and evolving funerary and remembrance spaces, customs and practices; and secondly, relationality and autonomy through the choice of where to situate the dead, and implications for associated future memory-making.

Death in the Peripheries: Planning for minority ethnic groups beyond ‘the city’ (2021)

Beebeejaun, Y. & McClymont, K., McNally, D., Mathijssen, B. & Maddrell, A. Journal of Planning Education and Research (JPER). Open Access

“Deathscapes” are a growing field of research within social and cultural geography but to date little attention has been paid to the provision of space for death within urban planning. This paper examines a central yet largely ignored requirement of everyday life: the provision of suitable facilities and support around death, remembrance, and disposal of bodily remains. Our focus is the empirical and theoretical implications of the ongoing marginalization of British Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups in the UK and the intersection with planning for death. Our research took place in three English towns (Huddersfield, Northampton and Swindon) and one Welsh town (Newport). While sites of bodily disposal, and practices of mourning and remembrance, are universal they are negotiated, practiced, and ritualized in diverse ways within multi-ethnic societies. Our research finds a lack of co-ordination of cemetery, crematoria, and remembrance provision in England and Wales, creating fragmented approaches to planning for burial and cremation sites. We argue that dominant cultural norms are reproduced leading to the marginalization of minority group within planning for death. We explore how the needs of ethnic minority groups are peripheralized through a spatial imaginary where British towns are not recognized as sites of diversity, hindering recognition of appropriate rituals and services for death. We call for greater recognition of the multi-ethnic nature of these places and continuing need for spatial arrangements that recognize diverse needs and wishes in death.

Diverse teams researching diversity: Negotiating identity, place and embodiment in qualitative research (2021)

Mathijssen, B., McNally, D., Maddrell, A., Dogra, S., Beebeejaun, Y. & McClymont, K. Qualitative Research. Open Access

Fieldwork encounters are not only contingent to biographical subjectivities, but are mediated by a confluence of identity, place and embodiment. This paper offers reflexive accounts of researchers with various socio-cultural and disciplinary backgrounds, who collaborated as a team to examine the varied funerary experiences and needs of established minorities and recent migrants in England and Wales. Focusing on the researchers’ varied personal experiences with death and bereavement and on their performances of minority and majority ethnic and migrant identities, the paper highlights the mediated and embodied nature of fieldwork. It argues that reflection on the various aspects of intersectional researcher identity is necessary for a rigorous fieldwork practice that takes transparency and politics into account. This facilitates a deeper understanding of the positionality of both researchers and interlocutors, and the situated co-production of knowledge. In doing so, the paper illustrates that conducting research with a diverse team of researchers contributes to better understanding the complexity and multifacetedness of social phenomena.

Hoe werkt kwalitatief onderzoek? Grip op wetenschappelijk onderzoek (2021)

Visser, A. & Mathijssen, B. Tijdschrift voor Geestelijke Verzorging. 24 (102) 22-31. Open Access 

Loop je rond met het idee iets te onderzoeken? Dan zou een kwalitatieve onderzoeksbenadering je wellicht kunnen helpen. In dit tweede deel van de serie ‘Grip op wetenschappelijk onderzoek’ bespreken de auteurs de basis van kwalitatief onderzoek en wat de kracht van interviews en participerende observatie kan zijn. Ook als je geen onderzoeksplannen hebt, is dit artikel interessant. De auteurs gaan weer uit van een recente publicatie, zodat je steeds meer vertrouwd kunt raken met onderzoek in de geestelijke verzorging.

Intersections of (infra)structural violence and cultural inclusion: the geopolitics of minority cemeteries and crematoria provision (2021)

Maddrell, A., McNally, D., Beebeejaun, Y., McClymont, K. & Mathijssen, B. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (TIBG). Open Access

Building on embodied and de‐colonial approaches to geopolitics, this paper examines the relationship between forms of governance in municipal cemetery and crematorium provision and the needs of established minorities, arguing that inadequate infrastructure and services can constitute harm. Crucially, it is contended that forms of governance impact not only on the living, but also on perceptions of the wellbeing of the dead. Grounded in a study of four towns in England and Wales, the paper identifies firstly how intersectional identity fundamentally shapes people’s experiences of deathscape governance; secondly, the possibilities of infrastructural benefits of inclusive services; and thirdly, the harms done by non‐inclusive forms of governance, implicit territoriality and inadequate infrastructure. This is evidenced in the negative impact of municipal cemetery organization and management on specific minority groups, such as inadequate burial space, high burial costs, hinderances to timely rituals, and protracted planning processes; as well as reduced access to services as a result of government austerity measures. The conclusion calls for a wider conceptualization of necropolitics, based on a critical‐feminist‐decolonial geopolitics of deathscapes in multicultural societies, and offers insights for the practical governance of inclusive cemeteries and crematoria.

The human corpse as aesthetic-therapeutic (2021)

Mortality. 23 (3) 215-230. Open Access

This paper shows how the human corpse can function as an aes- thetic-therapeutic for the deceased, the bereaved and for death care professionals. It understands the human corpse as a liminal entity that is characterised by a specific materiality, biography and self-referentiality. Because of these attributes the corpse can be employed as an aesthetic-therapeutic by the bereaved and by death care professionals in response to a death. On the basis of participant observation in the death care industry and qualitative interviews with bereaved people and funeral professionals in the Netherlands, the paper discusses four engagements with the dead body in the period prior to the funeral: i) caring, ii) sustaining, iii) restoring, and iv) disregarding the dead body. Crucially, it shows how such engagements can contribute to the well-being of those involved, including the deceased, who is often understood to be sentient. Furthermore, by focusing on cases where the corpse is disregarded, the paper argues that an aesthetic-therapeutic under- standing of the human corpse is hegemonic in the death care industry. The analysis and conclusion offer insights to scholars in the interdisciplinary field of death studies, as well as reflections for practitioners in end-of-life and death care.

Non-denominational spiritual care givers and the development of their spirituality (2021)

Roos-Ten Napel, N., Mathijssen, B., Smeets, W. & Zock, H.
Health and Social Care Chaplaincy. 9 (1) 60-79.
Limited Access.

In the Netherlands, a growing number of spiritual care givers are working without being endorsed by any church or worldview organization. Since 2015, these non-denominational spiritual care givers can undergo an assessment of their “spiritual competence” on top of their Master’s degree in Spiritual Care, which leads to a mandate in this area. This enables them to obtain full membership of the professional Association of Spiritual Caregivers in the Netherlands (Vereniging van Geestelijk VerZorgers, VGVZ), from which they previously were excluded. The VGVZ seeks to secure the quality and professionalism of spiritual care, and full membership is a condition typically required by clients or employers. The VGVZ’s Professional Standard outlines the membership criteria and states that a spiritual care giver needs to have both a certain expertise, derived from a Master’s degree, and authorization, derived from an endorsement or mandate that ought to safeguard their spiritual competence and authentic, lived spirituality. However, as this study illustrates, the terminology used in the Professional Standard is rather unclear. Reference is made to “spiritual”, “worldview” and “hermeneutic” competencies, which are all situated in the domain of substantive, process-orientated and personal capabilities. This article critically examines the notion of spiritual competence as a leading concept in the acceptance and assessment of non-denominational spiritual care givers. By doing so, it offers a novel systematic analysis of the field and sets the agenda for future research.

Transforming bonds. Ritualising post-mortem relationships in the Netherlands (2018)

Mortality. 23 (3) 215-230. Open Access

This article offers a critique to existing ‘continuing bonds’ bereavement theories by focusing on the often-overlooked spatial, material and ritual dynamics of grief. Based on qualitative interviews in the Netherlands, it illustrates how recently bereaved people relocate their deceased within and outside of their homes to renegotiate the absence-presence of their deceased. Moreover, it illustrates how bereavement practices are linked to socially situated norms and values.

Deathscapes and Diversity in England and Wales: Setting an agenda (2018)

Maddrell, A., Beebeejaun, Y., McClymont, K., McNally, D., Mathijssen, B &  Dogra, S. La Revista d’Etnologia de Catalunya. 43. 39-53. Open Access.

This agenda setting article addresses the under-researched burial, cremation and remembrance needs of recent migrant and established minority groups in England and Wales. It draws attention to the politics of death practices and illustrates how appropriate spaces and timely services for death positively impact on people’s well-being, social-cultural belonging and identity. 

The article was originally published in Catalan as Paisatges funeraris i diversitat a Anglaterra i a Gal·les: l’establiment d’una agenda. An English version will be published soon.

The ambiguity of human ashes. Exploring encounters with cremated remains in the Netherlands (2017) 

Death Studies. 41 (1). 34-41. Open Access.

This article explores innovations in cremation rituals, and unpicks the attitudes and experiences of bereaved people in relation to human ashes. Whereas earlier work argued that human ashes are important and sacred to the next of kin, this research illustrates that people’s experiences are more diverse, and include unexpected challenges and moral obligations. The article merges qualitative and quantitative insights and invites interdisciplinary dialogue. 

Zin- en vormgeven aan de dood. Rituele praktijken en situationele geloofsvoorstellingen van nabestaanden in Nederland (2017)

Dutch summary PhD dissertation. Yearbook for Ritual and Liturgical Studies. (33) 92–104. Open Access.

Diverse sociaal-maatschappelijke veranderingen, zoals de ontkerkelijking en individualisering, hebben hun sporen nagelaten in de uitvaartpraktijk. De afgelopen decennia is er een dynamische – en ook typisch Nederlandse – uitvaartcultuur ontstaan, mede beïnvloed door het geprofessionaliseerde uitvaartwezen. Nieuwe mogelijkheden rond uitvaart en lijkbezorging hebben de praktijken, wensen en inspraak van betrokkenen beïnvloed. En hoewel dit volop mogelijkheden en keuzevrijheid biedt aan nabestaanden brengen de veranderingen ook uitdagingen en onzekerheden met zich mee. Het zijn tegenwoordig niet zozeer de religieuze of funeraire experts, maar vooral de nabestaanden zelf die de verantwoordelijkheid dragen om de uitvaart op een ‘goede’ manier in te vullen. Maar hoe doe je dat? Dit proefschrift onderzoekt welke handvatten voorhanden zijn om te antwoorden op de dood van een dierbare. Wat onthullen op maat gemaakte rituele praktijken over de persoonlijke voorkeuren en identiteiten van nabestaanden en hun betekenisverlening aan leven en dood?

Pastors and relatives. Enacting Protestant and Catholic funeral liturgies in the Netherlands (2013)

In Venbrux, E., Quartier, T., Venhorst, C. & Mathijssen, B. (eds.). Changing European Death Ways.Münster: Lit Verlag. 213–239.

Religiosity in ecclesial and non-ecclesial funeral rites. Exploring Whitehouse’s modes of religiosity (2013)

Yearbook for Liturgical and Ritual Studies. 29. 149-171. Open Access.

Eschatologische hoop. Moderne doodsbeleving en theologie in dialoog 

NTT Journal for Theology and the Study of Religion. 68 (1&2) 132-150.

These three articles explicitly focus on the changing role of religion in Europe and its consequences for ritual practices and religious experts. They discuss the emergence of civil celebrants and the changing role of ministers and priests in the contemporary Dutch funerary landscape, and the reinvention of contemporary funeral liturgies (2013). Subsequently, they address the various ways in which this impacts religious institutions, experts, prescriptions (2013) and theologies (2014). This work might be of special interest to academics and students in ritual studies and practical theology, and to ministers, pastoral workers, celebrants, chaplains and spiritual caregivers.