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  • Thanatology Today

What is Thanatology?

Updated: Mar 4, 2022

Death, Dying, Bereavement, and Loss

Thanatology is the academic or scientific study of death, dying, bereavement, and loss. It is an interdisciplinary field of study that draws from many different subject areas including psychology, sociology, theology, philosophy, biology, forensic science, archaeology, anthropology, history, and law. Thanatologists work in academia, medicine, nursing, counseling, social work, veterinary science, faith-based organizations, religious institutions, the funeral industry, and more.

Thanatology investigates such phenomena as the circumstances surrounding a person's death, the bodily changes that occur pre and post-mortem, all aspects of bereavement, the historical and multicultural attitudes towards death involving ritual and memorialization, and the possibility of life after life. It prepares students to offer hope and healing to individuals, families, and communities with grief, mourning, and end-of-life issues.

Thanatology, however, is not limited to the study of death and dying. Many of life’s transitions – even those that are expected – can elicit a grief response. Some examples of non-death losses include illness, injury, aging, retirement, unemployment, divorce, breakups, and relocation. Thanatology allows us to develop an understanding of the grief reaction associated with these kinds of losses as well.

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What is Thanatology? Source: Wix Media

No living creature can escape death. No one else can die our death or feel our grief. Likewise, we will endure many losses in our lifetime. These events are as unique as we are, but some commonalities bind us. Many of the difficulties we face in life as individuals and as a society can be attributed to loss and grief and can be examined in these terms. Our individual and collective experiences with loss and grief can profoundly affect our view of ourselves, others, and the world around us.

Thanatology teaches us as much about life and living as it does about death and dying. It has the potential to increase the quality of life and happiness of those who study it by lowering death and loss anxiety. With its life-affirming purpose, thanatology enriches our personal lives and positively impacts society.

Corr, C.A., Corr, D.M., & Doka, K.J. (2018). Death & dying, life & living (8th ed.). Wadsworth Cengage Learning.


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