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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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Technical Notes xiii


Technical Notes As with any comparative study, the difficulties are enormous in regard to technical vocabulary between disciplines (e.g., anthropology, history, linguis- tics, psychology etc.). In this monograph, I have attempted to bridge together scientific and humanistic research that until recently were worlds apart. Now that there is a significant community involved in the cognitive science of culture, scholars are now able to communicate across these disciplinary divisions and generate a novel approach to the study of human culture. Here I employ the American Psychological Association (APA) reference style to facilitate experi- mental and naturalistic studies into the research conducted by archaeologists, historians of religions, and anthropologists. This comparative research has also left me with several hard choices in re- gard to dating, language, and translation between disciplinary models. Here I use the dating system (e.g., Common Era/CE, or Before Common Era/BCE) common to historians and scholars in Religious Studies and Anthropology, over dating used by Archaeologists (i.e., Before Present/BP). This is due to the fact that this monograph appears in a Religious Studies series and that audi- ence will be more familiar with this dating system. Also, the majority of exam- ples and evidence covered in this volume are from what scholars categorize as the “historical era.” I am, however, currently writing another volume on the evolution of ritual behavior that will cover in detail pre-historical evidence from humans and other mammals. Whenever possible, I have streamlined certain words or phrases to aid the reader. Much of the work...

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