Cremation as an emerging cultural system
Collier, CeCelia Danna
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Because the number of cremations per year in America has dramatically increased, from approximately three percent of deaths annually in the early 1960s to approximately twenty-five percent at present, this research analyzes the cultural implications of this trend for American society. There is no previous research that takes a sociological look at cremation in the United States. Since funerary practices serve as a cultural system, as a model of and model for present social life, I evaluate cremation as an emerging cultural system in U.S. society. As a starting point for this analysis, my research is grounded in the state of Georgia, which is a middle-of-the-road state, among the fifty states, in the use of cremation. An analysis of state survey results, cremation gardens, professional input, state law, and industry data contributes to an understanding of the practices and meanings associated with cremation in American culture. Throughout this study, cremation practices are contrasted with burial practices, in order to understand how funerary systems are evolving. Secondary analysis of national sample surveys provides contextual data for this research. Data analysis focuses on how cremation guides and reflects contemporary social life for individuals and the larger culture, including trends such as postmodernism. Compared to burial, cremation, as a form of disposition and memorialization, embodies multiple social patterns, such as the increasing value placed on nature, the decreasing value of the body, the decreasing social ties between the living and the dead, the increasing individualization and personalization of memorialization, the increasing secularization of American society, and the decreasing sense of the sacred in social life, according to Durkheim. With over fifty percent of Americans choosing cremation in state and national surveys, the rise in cremation in the U. S. is a social trend that can be expected to continue well into the future.