LUCAS Graduate Conference 2013: Death, the Cultural Meaning of the End of Life

To conference website

24 and 25 January 2013

Death is a defining factor in the explorations of our subjectivity, art, history, politics, and many other aspects of our social interactions and perceptions of the world.

In the modern age, conceptions of death have continued to shift and evolve, yet our perceptions are still fueled by an instinctive fear of the end of life. To cloak our anxieties, we often shift our attention to life. Michel Foucault has noted how this emphasis on life—as a way to conceal the realities of illness and death—has been re-enforced by social institutions such as the hospital or retirement homes that separate the sick and dying from our direct, everyday experience. In recent decades, we have rebelled against the threat of death by inventing new technologies and medicines that have drastically increased our life expectancy—diseases and disabilities are gradually disappearing. Some believe that one day we will completely conquer the aging process, and ultimately death. Life can now be seen as a new form of commodity, a material object that we can trade, sell, or buy.

Despite our attempts to shut-out death or overcome its inevitability, death has remained a visible and unavoidable aspect of our lives. From antiquity to the present day, perceptions of death have been represented through various different mediums: visual culture, art, literature, music, historical writing, cinema, religious symbols, national anniversaries, and public expressions of mourning.

This conference aims to explore the different ways in which conceptualizations of death, from classical antiquity to the modern age, have transformed our understanding of the universal topic of death. The wide scope of this theme reflects the historical range of the LUCAS’s three research programmes (Classics and Classical Civilization, Medieval and Early Modern Studies and Modern and Contemporary Studies), as well as the intercontinental and interdisciplinary focus of many of the institute’s research projects. Although the emphasis of the conference lies on different and changing (diachronic and synchronic) perspectives, perceptions and representations, we aim to look at how death has been represented and theorized and to what extent its representation, its function and status have changed or remained the same.

Researchers are stimulated to present a variety of different perspectives on the concept of death. They can investigate how different cultures throughout the ages imagined the end of life, explore the function of art in cultural conceptions of death or how religious symbols and anniversaries were organized and imagined. Other subjects may include historical processes and discourses, textual and/or visual representations, literary or art canons, philosophical developments, and political issues.

Questions that could be raised include: how can historical and contemporary conceptualizations of death be related to the construction of our subjectivity and our cultural identity? What is the cultural meaning(s) of death? How has globalism, the multicultural society and the dissolving of (cultural/political) boundaries altered our experience of and communication about death? To what extent has modern warfare changed our conceptions of death and life? How have cinema and individual artists represented death and how have these representations changed? How has the shifting function and presence of religion influenced our reflections on death and (after)life? How does our encounter with death define our ethical relationship with the (intercultural) other?

Researchers are encouraged to present and exchange their ideas in an international and interdisciplinary environment, and we welcome papers from all disciplines within the humanities. This two-day conference aims to provide a platform for PhD students in the humanities from both universities in The Netherlands as well as abroad. The committee aims to invite two internationally renowned senior academics from different disciplines to act as keynote speakers, participate in the discussions and provide feedback to the papers presented at the conference.

The Call for Papers will be published in May 2012

The organizing committee:

- Odile Bodde
- Maarten Jansen
- David Louwrier
- Jenny Weston


Last Modified: 19-11-2012