Sociology Index


Sociology of Death and Dying

Thanatology is the scientific study and analysis of death. Thanatology investigates death and the forensic aspects of death. The word thanatology, is derived from the Greek language. In Greek mythology, Thanatos is the personification of death. Thanatology analysis bodily changes that accompany death. Thanatology also investigates all the social aspects related to death.

"So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, ..... approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."
- Thanatopsis, William Cullen Bryant.

Élie Metchnikoff advocated that without systematic attention to death, life sciences would not be complete. Metchnikoff called for a systematic study of death which is known as thanatology. Élie Metchnikoff argued that those who were dying had no resource for the experience of dying and that an academic study like thanatology would help those facing death to have a better understanding of the phenomenon and reduce their fear of death.

Feifel was able to laid the foundation for Thanatology through his book 'The Meaning of Death.' Thanatology improved education about death and grief using death-related data and methodology. Key texts like The Experience of Death by Paul-Louis Landsberg and Martin Heidegger's Being and Time were important books on thanatology.

Though medical students had their encounters with cadavers through anatomical studies there has not been enough instruction on how to care for the dying. Thanatology as a scientific study and analysis of death will be greatly helpful to medical students.

After World War II, existential philosophers began considering life-and-death issues. Herman Feifel, an American psychologist was a pioneer of the modern death movement. Feifel started discussions of death and dying with the publication of his book The Meaning of Death. Feifel dispelled myths held by scientists and practitioners about death. Feifel laid the foundation for Thanatology.