The End of Life, The Ends of Life: An Anthropological View

Daniel Martin Varisco


All known human societies have a worldview that deserves to be called religion; all religions must explain death.  Anthropologists study the diversity of religious systems, present and past, in order to understand what is common to humanity.  Rather than starting from the view of a particular revelation or set of doctrines, the anthropologist tries to step outside his or her own subjective worldview and identify patterns in the evolution of human thinking about the reality of physical death.   Are humans the only animals that are conscious of death, or do we share sentiments observable in our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees?  At what point in history did the concept of an afterlife, life in some spiritual sense after physical death, appear?  Is the religious explanation of life and death a mere reflection of a communal social fact, as the sociologist Emile Durkheim suggested, or a shared psychological trait, as more recent scholars assert?  Can and should the modern scientist make a definitive statement about the finality of death and human consciousness?



Anthropology of Religion; Mortality; Mortuary Rituals' “End of Life”

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