Death, Society, and Human Experience

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Allyn & Bacon, 2009 - Social Science - 544 pages
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This landmark text on the sociology of death and dying draws on contributions from the social and behavioral sciences as well as the humanities, such as history, religion, philosophy, literature, and the arts, to provide thorough coverage of understanding death and the dying process.

The text focuses on both individual and societal attitudes and how they influence both how and when we die and how we live and deal with the knowledge of death and loss. Robert Kastenbaum is a renowned scholar in the field who developed one of the world's first death education courses and introduced the first text for this market.

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Kastenbaum's landmark text attempts to integrate all of the dimensions of the dying experience with all of the dimensions of cultural, political, religious, and economic considerations, While done with considerable skill, it is at the expense of depth in any one area, and it leaves the reader with a sense of having only cursorily touched upon a multiplicity of topics. In a number of instances, the author offers his interpretation and commentary, as in discussing the topics of assisted suicide, the right-to-die, and abortion. In these topics, his liberal, humanist and secularist perspectives are bolstered by research that corroborates his stance. He does a less thorough job of helping the reader understand the alternative approaches to death and dying as experienced by individuals with strong faith traditions in which death is seen as a transitional and transformational process rather than as a finality.  



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About the author (2009)

Bob Kastenbaum's exploits as skating messenger apparently qualified him to become editor of two community newspapers, an eccentric career trajectory that somehow led to a graduate scholarship in philosophy and a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Southern California (1959). He was most interested in fields of psychological study that barely existed at the time: lifespan development and aging, time perspective, creativity, and death and dying. Kastenbaum became part of an emerging cadre that overcame the prevailing neglect and resistance to these issues. He worked in varied settings as clinician, researcher, activist, hospital administrator, educator, and author. The innovative programs he introduced into a geriatric hospital and his article, “The Reluctant Therapist” have been credited with preparing the way for increased attention to the needs and potentials of vulnerable elders and terminally ill people. With Dick Kalish, he founded Omega, the first peer-reviewed journal focused on death-related issues. Kastenbaum taught the first regularly-scheduled university course on death and dying and came up with the first textbook (Death, Society, & Human Experience, 1977). He also established the first university-based educational and research center on death and dying (Wayne State University, 1966). His other books include The Psychology of Death (1972, 1990, 2000); Dorian, Graying: Is Youth the Only Thing Worth Having? (1995), and On Our Way. The Final Passage Through Life and Death (2004). He has also served as editor of the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, (2003) and two previous encyclopedias. In the public sphere he has served as a co-founder of The National Caucus on Black Aging, consultant to the United States Senate Special Subcommittee on Aging, and participant in developing the Veterans Administration's geriatric research and educational centers, and the landmark National Hospice Demonstration Project. Kastenbaum lives in Tempe, Arizona with Bunny (wife), Angel (The Incredible Leaping Dog), enhanced by Pumpkin and Snowflake in the cat department. Along with his continuing research interests, Kastenbaum has been writing book and verse for musicals and operas. He notes that nobody has died in the two most recently premiered operas (Closing Time; American Gothic, music by Kenneth LaFave), but cannot make any such promises about the next opera.

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