It seemed like the “rite” thing to do – choices about religious content in everyday celebrant-led funerals in the UK

Thompson, Naomi; Spacey, Meghan; Baker, Christopher and Cheal, Steve. 2024. It seemed like the “rite” thing to do – choices about religious content in everyday celebrant-led funerals in the UK. In: Terhi Utriainen; Dorothea Lüddeckens and Brenda Mathijssen, eds. Handbook on Contemporary Death Rituals in Europe. Leiden: Brill. [Book Section] (In Press)

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Abstract or Description

This chapter engages with research findings from the ‘Faith in Funerals’ project, which is exploring the fusion of religious, spiritual and/or non-religious content in funeral ceremonies led by independent celebrants in the UK. Civil funerals in the UK differ from civil wedding ceremonies which are entirely secular - as funerals are not a legal ceremony and there are no legal restrictions to using religious content in civil funerals conducted by non-religious officiants. Funerals conducted by independent celebrants fall into categories created about the proportions of secular or non-religious funerals. The reality is far more complex than such divisions suggest and they misrepresent the engagement with religion, belief and spirituality by people planning these funerals for their loved ones. The project challenges narratives of secularisation and binarized notions of funerals being religious and non-religious. The research found that over 70% of funerals led by independent celebrants included at least one of a prayer, hymn, or reading from scripture (predominantly Christian) based on an analysis of 1000 services. In this chapter, we argue that the choice to include such content is a performance ritual that represents people’s understandings of what makes a proper funeral. This is supported by a theme that has emerged from interviews with those who have arranged funerals for their loved ones that this choice is often based on it feeling like ‘the right thing to do’ or ‘how it should be’. As such, we argue that incorporation of popular resources like The Lord’s Prayer represent a funeral rite that provides a sense that the right thing has been done. This appears to be more significant than it being a collective act for emotional synchrony – though this is also significant for some.

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Book Section

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Social, Therapeutic & Community Engagement (STaCS)
Social, Therapeutic & Community Engagement (STaCS) > Faiths and Civil Society


March 2024Accepted

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Date Deposited:

28 May 2024 09:35

Last Modified:

28 May 2024 16:09


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