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Research looks at ‘exotic’ death rites in Netherlands


Belief in God seems to be making way for a modern form of ancestor worship in the Netherlands, says a Dutch academic who has embarked on research into non-religious death rites.

"The priest and the pastor are increasingly sidelined, but the need for rites related to death remains. People are now negotiating with funeral companies about their own rites," Eric Venbrux said when he gave his 21 September inaugural lecture as professor of the anthropology of religion at Radboud University in Nijmegen.

"In how it deals with death, the Netherlands is one of the most exotic societies. Exotic in the sense that there is a great diversity of death rites," said Venbrux.

Many commentators say the Netherlands is one of the most secularised countries in western Europe.

Professor Venbrux told his audience that in the Netherlands there is now a trend away from rites of bereavement and toward death rites, where the emphasis is less on the grief of surviving relatives and more on the life of the deceased person.

This is expressed in many forms, he said, such as house altars or working the ashes of a deceased person into jewellery, ornaments or tattoos. In other cases, surviving relatives leave messages in bottles by gravesides, and bereaved parents put birthday presents at the grave of their children.

In his latest research, Venbrux, who has previously researched funeral rites in a Swiss Alpine village and among aboriginal people in Australia, aims to shed light on what a national study this year described as the "new religious complexity" of the Netherlands.

Venbrux is Radboud University’s first professor in its faculty of religious studies, which is the university’s newest faculty. It was inaugurated in 2006. The university itself dropped the description "Catholic" from its public name in 2004.

Web site (in English): www.ru.nl/rdr/ 

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