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Lecture 4

Thanatology 2200 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Determinism, Consumerism, Terror Management Theory

Course Code
THAN 2200
Darcy Harris

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Diversity and Cultural Awareness in Death and Grief
This is a unit that has some paradox attached to it. On the one hand, the purpose of exploring diverse
ways of looking at death and grief is to appreciate the many different ways that people all over the
world approach death, dying, and bereavement. On the other hand, the discussion can quickly turn into
a view of differences rather than appreciation of diversity. So, here are a few introductory thoughts:
1. There is more to diversity than learning tolerance for differences. To really appreciate diverse
ways of knowing and experiencing, you need to be open to ways of being that might be outside
of your own comfort zone. It is important to know when you are being stretched and to
acknowledge that within yourself while at the same time maintaining an open mind (and heart)
towards those who have been raised with different attitudes and beliefs than your own. This
attitude is ool referred to as ultural opetee. ‘eetl, the ter, ultural
huilit has ee offered i deferee to our aareess that e a eer reall e fully
opetet i a ulture i hih e dot priaril idetif.
2. ‘ather tha fousig o ho others are differet, allo ourself to e opel urious about
how others approach issues and topics that are more difficult or that are controversial. Rather
than trying to convince them of your position, take the stance of learning what you can from
someone who may be able to enrich your own life.
3. Keep in mind the lesson from the video last week on the topic of Terror Management Theory
and cultural/national rigidity. The more we feel threatened, the less likely we are to be open to
others and their way of being in the world. Know the places where you have some anxiety or
where you may be more rigid. Recognize these areas as sites of potential growth within yourself
and allow yourself to feel this anxiety even while you try to remain open.
4. Rarely do we convince someone else to change their beliefs, attitudes, and practices. A lot of
energy is spent doing this; our energy would be much better spent devoted to learning to listen
well, with an understanding of shared human experiences, even though we may outwardly seem
very different from those who do not share our views.
5. Every human encounter is a cross-cultural experience. We may look similar, been raised in
siilar irustaes ithi siilar ultural eliefs ad alues, ut e at just assue that
sharing these things means we are exactly the same. Approach every encounter with an
opeess to lear, share, appreiate, ad uderstad…ithout assuptios.
What is Cultural Competence?
It is a set of ogruet ehaiours, attitudes ad poliies that oe together i a idiidual, a sste,
an agency, or among groups that enables the ability to relate to others sensitively and effectively in
cross-cultural situations.
There is a otiuu or proess i the ogoig deelopet of ultural opetee….startig ith
cultural sensitivity, moving to an increasing cultural awareness, progressing with the acquiring of
cultural knowledge and cultural skills that ultimately leads to a level of cultural competence, which in
itself is an ever evolving process. The current thinking about cultural competence is that while the term
iplies that e a eoe opetet i uderstadig ultures that differ fro our o, e
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uderstad that it is eer possile to full uderstad a ulture i hih ou aret priaril idetified.
We ofte use the ter ultural huilit to reflet the stae of atig to lear fro others, e
aare ad sesitie to issues ad oers that others eperiee, ad eer assue e ko it all.
Cultural humility:
As we discussed last week, it is useful to think of how death and grief are viewed in various cultures
as death systems. As discussed earlier, a death system is a network of social, psychological, physical, and
spiritual realities by which our orientation to mortality is mediated and expressed.
Dr. Pittu Laungani, a British psychologist, explored how death systems vary in different societies. He
stated that ideas regarding how cultures view death and grief can be understood in these broad ideas.
Such ideas can be conceived on a continuum of:
Individualism vs. Communalism
Cultures that highly value individualism will tend to focus on individual achievement, independence, and
personal growth; cultures that value communalism will tend to focus more on the role of the individual
as it is expressed in the context of the family or the greater community, with any personal gain or
growth seen as a benefit to these groups and a reflection upon these groups more than upon the
individual person.
Cognitivism vs. Emotionalism
Cultures that highly value cognitivism will support the pursuit of scientific endeavors, the explanation of
the physical universe from tangible, rational theories, and scientific proof and reason will be highly
valued and rewarded. Cultures that value passion, emphasize personal beliefs and intuitive reasoning
occupy the other end of this continuum.
Freewill vs. Determinism
Cultures that faour a idiiduals idepedet thikig ad hoie, ith a ephasis o persoal
responsibility for actions and beliefs tend to encourage the concept of free will. Another aspect of
freewill is the sense that you can control outcomes by your own actions. Cultures that embrace a
deterministic view point tend to identify patterns such as fate, karma, and external forces outside of the
idiiduals otrol that predeterie ho ets will unfold.
Materialism vs. Spiritualism
Cultures that focus on materialism emphasize the role of personal power through consumerism, owning
goods, and acquisition of wealth. Cultures that focus on spiritualism tend to emphasize the acquisition
of personal beliefs and attitudes that are nontangible, and usually de-emphasize the role of material
gain in favour of spiritual understanding, greater depth of awareness, and the meaning of human
Remember to keep in mind that death systems between societies will differ due to:
Life expectancy
Exposure to death
Assumed control over the forces of nature
Idea of what it is to be a person.
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