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Author McCorkle Jr., William W. Author.

Title Ritualizing the Disposal of the Deceased From Corpse to Concept William W. McCorkle Jr. [electronic resource]

Published New York Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers 201103, c2010


Location Call No. Status
Edition 1st, New ed.
Physical description 198 p.
Series Toronto Studies in Religion 30
Summary Ritualizing the Disposal of the Deceased traces mortuary behavior from the early fossil record to modern religious contexts in diverse cultural settings. By using archival and ethnographic evidence from Buddhist traditions, the author highlights the disparity between doctrines that contradict actual practices performed by Buddhists themselves. By appealing to the evolved cognitive architecture of human minds, this book argues that ritualized disposal behavior is the by-product of mental systems designed to handle living people. Due to complex social intelligence, humans are compelled to handle dead people in ritualized behaviors and to represent them in counterintuitive ways. The author also examines the professional religious guilds that have taken advantage of these ritualized compulsions over the last several thousand years, by giving and controlling the meanings behind these actions. Furthermore, experimental evidence is given to support this hypothesis, providing the first mature cognitive and evolutionary theory for mortuary behavior by humans.
«William W. McCorkle, Jr. makes a significant contribution to the study of mortuary ritual. ‘Ritualizing the Disposal of the Deceased’ should be essential reading for those interested in explaining this remarkable aspect of human behavior.» (Harvey Whitehouse, Professor of Social Anthropology, Fellow of Magdalen College, University of Oxford) «In this exciting, controversial, and scholarly work, William W. McCorkle, Jr. combines a sophisticated historical knowledge of Buddhism with insights from cognitive and evolutionary psychology, as well as ethnography, to make sense of the widespread practice among humans to ritually dispose of dead bodies in bizarre and unexpected ways. McCorkle punctures claims that Buddhism ignores such practices by producing evidence to the contrary. This book is not only a good read but represents an important moment in the continually developing cognitive science of religion.» (E. Thomas Lawson, Editor, ‘Journal of Cognition and Culture’) «William W. McCorkle, Jr. stands firmly in the excellent tradition of reading Buddhist texts with the same kind of historical-critical acumen developed in dispassionate Biblical studies. Furthermore, he pays more attention to actual behavior than to proclaimed beliefs. It turns out that even among those Buddhists who explicitly reject supernatural assumptions connected with death and the dead, their behavior is steeped in superstitious behavior and references to superhuman and non-natural agents. McCorkle adds a much-needed corrective to a long history of scholarship that ideologically reproduces religious rhetoric and ignores actual behavior.» (Armin W. Geertz, Faculty of Theology, Aarhus University) «‘Ritualizing the Disposal of the Deceased’ is an outstanding contribution to our growing understanding of why humans engage in what are, from an evolutionary perspective, costly and seemingly useless behaviors that we call ‘religion’. William W. McCorkle, Jr. offers a persuasive case that like many recurrent features of religion the ritual disposal of dead bodies is a by-product of ordinary species-wide cognition that evolved to handle social interactions with living agents. This book is thus an excellent example of how refreshing and fruitful it is to shift the focus away from trying to interpret what rituals and other features of religion might mean to why we do them. And this is no arm-chair anthropology. McCorkle combines the best of both methodological worlds – cross-cultural data acquisition through on the ground fieldwork and controlled laboratory experiments. This enables him to test the very theory that he argues best explains what he found in the field. This is interdisciplinary scholarship at its best.» (D. Jason Slone, Author of ‘Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t’)
History notes The Author: William W. McCorkle, Jr. is an evolutionary and cognitive anthropologist interested in ritual, language, and communication. He earned his Ph.D. from the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University in Belfast, one of the world’s premiere centers for research on cognition, culture, and religion. He has conducted fieldwork in India and Japan and devised original experiments to test his theory on the ritualized burial of dead bodies by humans. He regularly gives papers and presentations internationally on ritual and human behavior. Most recently, he has served as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.
ISBN 9781453900673
Standard Number 9781453900673