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THE POLITICS OF GRIEF AND CONTINUING BONDS WITH THE DEAD: THE CASES OF MAOIST CHINA AND WAHHABI ISLAM

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The article is a contribution to a cross-cultural theory of grief. It examines the relationship between individual/family continuing bonds with the dead and cultural narratives that legitimize political power. The dead are collective representations (Dirkheim) that mediate the larger culture to individuals and to smaller communities and that reinforce social solidarity and identity. The political question is which collective--family, community, church, party, nation--owns the dead and controls the rituals by which bonds with the dead are maintained or relinquished? The article discusses one historical condition: times of rapid change in power arrangements. Bonds with the dead have a power in individual, family, or tribal life that can threaten the narrative that legitimizes the new political power holders. Ancestor rituals that support identity as a family or tribal member are surpressed and replaced by allegiance to collective representations of the new political order. Two historical examples are given: China under Chairman Mao and the Wahhabi reform in Arabic Islam.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Publication date: November 1, 2003

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