Godless people and dead bodies
Jacob Copeman (University of Edinburgh)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores body donation in India as a key instance of the material culture of atheism.
Paper long abstract:
Professed atheists are by no means the only people who donate their bodies, yet the practice is strikingly prevalent in a variety of atheist circles across time and geographical region. We concentrate here on the Indian case, exploring body donation as a key instance of the material culture of atheism. Recent moves to reinvigorate study of the material culture of religion are to be welcomed, but should be extended to irreligion as a means of addressing the longstanding irony that sees scholars represent materialism as an abstract doctrine and, hence, as immaterial. Body donation - an act both highly personal and with import for the atheist community as a whole in the contexts we explore - holds value as a bridge between 'positive' and 'negative' modes of atheist thought and action. It also provides a ready-made solution for atheist activists keen to circumvent the cadaver-centred death rituals they find so redundant. Moreover, body donation has come to form a key indicator of the morality of materialism, and as such has come to act as an important strategic component of atheist impression management, in India and elsewhere.
New immortalities: anthropological reflections on the procurement, transformation and use of human cadaveric tissue