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.