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Death in Modern Scotland, 1855–1955

Beliefs, Attitudes and Practices


Edited By Susan Buckham, Peter C. Jupp and Julie Rugg

The period 1855 to 1955 was pivotal for modern Scottish death culture. Within art and literature death was a familiar companion, with its imagined presence charting the fears and expectations behind the public face of mortality. Framing new concepts of the afterlife became a task for both theologians and literary figures, both before and after the Great War. At the same time, medical and legal developments began to shift mortality into the realms of regulation and control. This interdisciplinary collection draws from the fields of art, literature, social history, religion, demography, legal history and architectural and landscape history. The essays employ a range of methodologies and materials – visual, statistical, archival and literary – to illustrate the richness of the primary sources for studying death in Scotland. They highlight a number of intersecting themes, including spirituality and the afterlife, the impact of war, materiality and the disposal of the body, providing new perspectives on how attitudes towards death have affected human behaviour on both personal and public levels, and throwing into relief some of the unique features of Scottish society.
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13. ‘Where are our Dead?’ Changing Views of Death and the Afterlife in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Scottish Presbyterianism


← 266 | 267 →


13. ‘Where are our Dead?’ Changing Views of Death and the Afterlife in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Scottish Presbyterianism


In a short book, Death Cannot Sever, published in 1932, the Skye-born Church of Scotland minister of St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh, and a former Moderator of the General Assembly, Norman Maclean, claimed that the Scottish Presbyterian Churches were losing adherents because they were failing to address the most basic of human questions. ‘The Church’, he explained, ‘gives no answer to the questions: “Where are our dead? With what bodies do they come? Shall we know them? Should we pray for them?”’. Given the Churches’ silence on these questions, Maclean added, it was ‘no wonder pews become increasingly empty’.1 The distinguished social historian of Scotland, Christopher Smout, highlighted this passage in his A Century of the Scottish People of 1986, as evidence of an increasingly uncertain theological voice in twentieth-century Scottish Presbyterianism.2 There is much truth in this. During the later nineteenth and early twentieth century, many ministers of the national Church of Scotland and the other Presbyterian Churches ceased to proclaim the long-standing Reformed teachings about the afterlife, including the doctrines of the predestination of souls, the last judgement, eternal punishment for the reprobate, ← 267 | 268 → and eternal reward for the righteous. ‘Preachers do not, as they did fifty years ago’, observed Thomas Martin, Church of Scotland minister of the Barony church, Glasgow, in 1911,...

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