Professor Marshall


“By my existence I am nothing more than an empty place, an outline, that is reserved within being in general. Given with it, though, is the duty to fill in this empty place. That is my life."—Georg Simmel, Sociologist



This course is an undergraduate collegiate level sociology course about death and dying. Note that all of the courses on my site begin with the same lesson: What is Sociology?

Instructor's Notes:

The study of death and dying is formally called thanatology.

In this course, we will study death and dying by examining thanatology through the lens of sociology. Remember that this is only an introductory course, meant to scratch the surface of the scholarly study of death and dying.

Death is a natural process but also steeped in fear and denial. When you think about death, you're likely thinking about someone old, who, for lack of a better way of expressing it, meets our expectations for who is "supposed" to die; a life well-lived, and such. Or, maybe you think of those who have caused harm to others and thus, in our estimation, deserve to die. But, as we know, we will all die at some time and this forces us to examine death in an intimate way. As thinking about our own deaths can cause us great emotional distress and anxiety, we constuct mental walls to help us aviod these thoughts; further, we construct rituals and pageantry around the process of death to comfort our own selves and deflect thinking about our deaths (which might actually do us some good!). We spend our lives trying to avoid the inevitability of death. Why? From a sociological point of view, we work hard to construct a pivate reality that fills us up with anything but thoughts of death.

We will explore critiques of the meaning of dying, death, and transcendence and will attempt to understand how our meanings of death have changed over time. The million dollar questions for us all: how will our exposure to this course material impact us, psychically? Emotionally? Culturally? Moreover, in better understanding death, how will our lives be impacted? A WARNING: Questions such as these serve to undermine our sense of security in our lives. Proceed with caution, and a bit of intellectual curiosity.

--Dr. Debra Marshall