(DEA2b): Death and Grief in Society II: Death and social identity

Friday Jun 21 9:00 am to 10:30 am (Eastern Daylight Time)
McGill University -

Session Code: DEA2b
Session Format: Paper Presentations
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Not Applicable
Session Categories: In-person Session

The experiences of death and grief are both socially-mediated experiences. They are shaped and influenced by social, cultural, economic, political, demographic, racial, ethnic, and gendered dynamics, among others. The general purpose of this session is to become a meeting point and venue for scholars interested in death studies from a social science and humanities point of view. Tags: Death, Grief, Health and Care

Organizers: Zohreh Bayatrizi, University of Alberta, Audrey Medwayosh, University of Alberta; Chairs: Audrey Medwayosh, University of Alberta, Zohreh Bayatrizi, University of Alberta


Yagmur Karagol Demir, University of Alberta

Living as an Alevi, Dying as a Muslim

Alevis constitute the second-largest religious community in Turkey, following Sunni Muslims. Nevertheless, they have historically practised their faith behind closed doors, driven by concerns about potential stigmatization and harassment from the state and the Sunni Muslims, as Alevism differs from normative, sharia-centered Islam (Karakaya-Stump, 2020). Believing in the cyclical existence, and the immortality and transmigration of souls are some differences among others. Starting in the late 1980s, the Alevi cultural revival increased their visibility in Turkey. They established their houses of worship and started to publicly disclose their religious/cultural identity. However, the pursuit of equal citizenship remains an ongoing struggle for them to this day. Some preferred to migrate to the European countries. Especially with the 1964 bilateral guest worker agreement between Turkey and Belgium, the presence of Alevis in Belgium increased. This led to the establishment of their cultural centers, which also function as places of worship, providing them with comparatively greater freedom to express and live their identity. In this paper, I explore the Alevis’ perspective on death and examine how their practices are affected by cultural oppression in Turkey and immigration to Belgium. I conducted 20 semi-structured interviews with Alevis in Belgium who had experienced the loss of their relatives, spiritual leaders, and presidents of cultural centres. The interview data is supported by participant observation during Alevi funeral and mourning ceremonies. The research shows a notable distinction between the Alevis perspective on death and that of Sunni Muslims. This distinction becomes evident in their deliberate uses of specific terms during the time of death. It also shows that their funeral and mourning ceremonies, compared to the other practices of their faith, are more affected by cultural oppression in Turkey since those ceremonies are practiced in public and open to stigmatization. Immigration to Belgium is another dimension that influenced practices around death. The newcomers prioritized securing a livelihood in the new country rather than actively maintaining their cultural/religious identity. Today, with more than 50 years of living in Belgium, and more than 20 years of officially organizing in the houses of worship/cultural centres, the Alevi community has revived their discourses and practices around death.

Audrey Medwayosh, University of Alberta

Disenfranchised grief: an examination of Urban Indigenous experiences of grief and bereavement

Kenneth Doka coined the term “disenfranchised grief” in 1989, to describe loss that is not acknowledged as grievable by wider society. In more recent years, Doka and others in his field have broadened this definition, to consider the possible links between trauma and disenfranchised grief. Indigenous People whose lands are now occupied by Canada have had their traditional lifeways disrupted by colonization, a process that remains ongoing. As a result of colonial attempts at cultural and physical genocide via the Indian Act, Indian Residential Schools, and multifarious child welfare interventions, Indigenous People have faced many traumas. These traumas are intergenerational, and actively present in daily life. Indigenous People are overrepresented in statistics on homicide and suicide, and our life expectancy is 15 years less than the non-Indigenous Canadian population. This paper looks at urban Indigenous Peoples’ experience of grief and bereavement in Edmonton, Canada, from my thesis research. I argue that Indigenous grief has become disenfranchised. Our grief comes from many sources and spans many generations. The sources of our grief are not often readily apparent to the wider public. There is a lack of understanding around how and why we grieve. In turn, this can impact understandings of how complex Indigenous grief is, opening potential for it to be overlooked or misunderstood by both professionals and the public. My work engages with Doka’s theory of disenfranchised grief to show how this theory is applicable to my findings, and where there remain gaps in the literature that need addressing. Adequately addressing Indigenous grief is an important step in healing and achieving equity for Indigenous People. 

Zohreh Bayatrizi, University of Alberta

Piloting Research on Grief Experience of Immigrants amid War and Violence

We will discuss the results of a pilot study we have conducted on the experience of grief among immigrants in Canada. In particular, we are focusing on immigrants who have come to Canada from countries that experience turmoil, such as war and political violence. While the larger study involves 4 different immigrant communities, in this pilot study we have focused on Palestinian and Ukrainian immigrants only. Our starting point is that immigration, identity, the sense of home and grief are intertwined, each influencing the others. As the pilot study is currently undergoing, we cannot yet give a preview of the results at the time of abstract submission but our previous study of a similar topic indicates that the vicarious experience of violence “back home” can be felt profoundly among immigrants in Canada and result in major adverse mental health effects.

Non-presenting authors: Samira Torabi, Univeristy of Alberta; Rezvaneh Erfani, University of Alberta; Madina Ahmed, University of Alberta; Ivan Shmatko, Univeristy of Alberta