Accepted paper:

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.

panel P20
New immortalities: anthropological reflections on the procurement, transformation and use of human cadaveric tissue