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Ritualizing the Disposal of the Deceased

From Corpse to Concept


William W. McCorkle Jr.

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.


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Acknowledgments ix


Acknowledgments This monograph is a revised version of my Ph.D. thesis, prepared and submit- ted to the Queen’s University, Belfast, in the summer of 2007. I have taken the liberty of removing a large portion of statistical data that was included in the original manuscript. I have significantly expanded on some of the finer points in the original to emphasize my arguments. Many of these can be found in the notes. Also, I conducted a sizeable amount of fieldwork during my ten- ure in Belfast, mainly in South and East Asia. Although, the majority of these field observations were removed in favor of the experimental evidence, I plan to include them in several forthcoming articles and chapters. I would like to thank my supervisor Tom Lawson, who first and foremost believed in me and this project from the very beginning. He consistently pushed me to be creative as a scholar and researcher, and challenged me to the very limit of my ability with every conversation. His role as my mentor and friend is a constant reminder of why I chose academia as my profession and passion. I would like to thank Joel Mort who saw every bit of this project through from its genesis to conclusion, reading through my rough drafts and giving unlimited advice for revisions. Joel was able to bring the best scientist out of me during my tenure in Belfast. Pierce Howard, who worked with me on testing and measurement during this project, more so he helped...

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