Publications

 

  • Rumble, H., Woodthorpe, K. and C. Valentine (July 2013) Funeral Poverty IPR Briefing, Institute of Policy Research, University of Bath.

Book cover!

 

Jeff Jorgenson, Founder of Elemental Northwest – Elemental Cremation and Burial based in Seattle (USA) has very kindly submitted a review of the book I co-authored with Douglas Davies  published as Natural Burial: Traditional-Secular Spiritualities and Funeral Innovation. Jeff’s review is below:“When it comes to the topic of cemeteries and burial, two poles of writing exist.  The first is the library of historical ramblings from those that are enamored by the mystique of years gone by and the curious practices of the Victorian era; the second, is the industry driven monthly and quarterly publications that do nothing more than serve the cemeterians a steady diet of “best practices” and merchandise.  Largely missing from the canon is thoughtful and insightful research from academia.  In Western cultures, the natural burial movement is undeniable and as yet has largely been left to the industry insiders to define the boundaries and the marketplace to divine their wishes.  Fortunately for both the layperson and the industry insider, we have the brilliant work of Drs. Rumble and Davies.Natural Burial: Traditional-Secular Spiritualities and Funeral Innovation is an academically appropriate prolix title that could easily have a more approachable title: ‘Natural Burial – Why It’s Cool’. To the authors’ credit though, this is well designed doctoral research that is very accessible to those of us mere mortals that hunger to know more about the anthropology and underpinnings of the natural burial and the care for our dead. They bring the foundational definitions that have challenged people inside the industry and confused the consumer and take us through every conceivable associated topic that has challenged anyone who has tried to understand the green burial movement.  This exploration of topics such as: ‘Body as waste – body as gift’, ‘the therapeutic natural place’, and ‘Simplicity, no frills and back to nature’ all reveal key insights as to how these emotive elements play into the application and growth of this segment of our society. The concise and thoughtful research that Rumble and Davies have put into this text is engaging and helpful for those who have a desire for a philosophical and critical evaluation of this fascinating topic.It is my opinion that a review or blog post on a book or product that has nothing but effusive praise and glowing regard is essentially useless. To that end I will warn you that this book is serious business. It is an academic text and, as such, is a fairly dense read. It should be. These are topics that are existential in nature and have great cultural anthropological significance.  If you are looking for a book that feeds a romanticized notion of death or conversely, a professional document that gives you ‘green burial practices to maximize profit’, this is definitely not your book.  With such gems as: “But there would also seem to be a case for seeing the natural burial context as an example of what some linguists see as a ‘four-place verbal construction in which a tritransitive verb is employed”  (Nutshell: The act of green burial can be seen to benefit three [tri] things – yourself, your family, and the earth.) this  146 page book is not one that you are going to flip pages like with Harry Potter or Michael Crichton.

Anyone with a keen interest in the direction of environmentally aware funeral and cemetery practices needs to put this book on a must read list.  We have so few texts to turn to that have something meaningful to add to the discussion that it bears reading one that gives us so many perspectives to contemplate as we move forward in this exciting arena.  I hope that you enjoy the book as thoroughly as I did.” (Jeff Jorgenson – Seattle – November 2012)

  • For those outside of the academy who have often asked me  how to access my thesis, well, the good news is I’ve made it open source so you can access it online here.

 

  • See a comment in response to our book on the blog ‘Law and Religion UK’ by David Pocklington. In my opinion, David rightly concludes: “Whilst the trend towards green burials is to be welcomed, there remain serious legal, financial and operational issues to be addressed for the whole sector.”

 

 

  • I contributed to an article in the New Scientist called ‘Future Funerals: what a way to go’ (13th August 2011). You can access the article here, but unfortunately you have to subscribe to read the full article online. Fortunately there are some interesting photographs in the New Scientist online gallery that accompany the article. Check them out here!
  • Rumble, H. (2011) Natural Burial’s Diverse Landscape and Legacy in Funeral
    Service Journal
    Vol. 126, No. 10 pp.92-98

 

 

 

  • Below is an image of the front cover of my book that I’ve written with Prof. Douglas Davies about spirituality and funeral innovations, particularly in relation to British natural burial provision. It’s now available to buy on Amazon or through the publisher, Continuum.

  • An interview I did with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) who funded my PhD is now available as a podcast through the AHRC – Religion and Society website. It’s an interview about my initial research findings from April 2010 when I was still very much writing up my thesis and in the process of working out the content.

In the space of just 20 years a new kind of burial practice which started in the UK has grown here, and begun to spread around the world.  Natural [or woodland] burial grounds across the country now number over 200, not far short of the number of crematoria.

The first academic study of them is being conducted by Hannah Rumble.  Entitled “British Woodland Burial: its theological, ecological and social values”, it is a Collaborative Studentship project in which she is working on her doctoral thesis in collaboration with the Arbory Trust, the first Church of England charity to run such a burial site.

Hannah has interviewed pre-registered users [who have booked a grave for themselves for natural burial], relatives and friends of those who have been buried in this way, celebrants, clergy, practitioners who run such burial grounds, and undertakers.

Those who choose natural burial repeatedly talk about the ecological value of “putting something back”, their love of nature, and of not wishing to leave a grave which will be a burden to maintain.  Relatives sometimes report a tension between those ideals and their own needs, saying that while attractive in spring and summer, autumn and winter can be very demanding emotionally.

Many relatives say that these are vibrant spaces, where graves are not clearly delineated as they are in cemeteries and churchyards, so it is possible to visit the burial place of a loved one feeling that it is a very free and personal spot.  However, most graves can only be marked in a temporary way until woodland establishes itself, and that may not meet the need of the relatives in the way that the person who chose the grave anticipated.

Hannah says that fewer people than she had anticipated devise their own rituals, and many ceremonies are still using a religious form.  Civil celebrants officiating in a non-religious way find that nature provides a strong resource of imagery of re-generation and the continuity of life through relationship with the living.

Her background is in anthropology though the supervision of the study is through a department of theology and religion.  She has found natural burial to be an attractive new option in a mobile society in which many people have lost a sense of belonging to a place, but value nature.

It is a movement still finding its way, she says.  There is a willingness to learn from experience, which sometimes includes questioning the rather rigid rules about what is natural, such as prescribing what flowers can be placed at a grave.  Natural burial is an option which is clearly here to stay, and the results of her study may well help people in future to weigh up whether the choice is right for them or for their relatives. But exact figures are not yet recorded, so what proportion of the 1 in 4 deaths which proceed to burial are in these new natural burial sites is a figure still waiting to be established.

Funeral practices have been neglected in the study of religion, in the view of Douglas Davies, Director of the Centre for Death and Life Studies at Durham University, who is supervising the research project.

He thinks the academic disciplines studying religion have focused too much on what people believe, and not enough on what they do.  Everyone dies, so the choices made about cremation, burial, and funeral rites provide a window on values which are even more fundamental than belief.

The rapid increase in the choice of natural burial reflects the growth of values relating to ecology, as well as a decline in traditional religion.  It is a practice which is also providing greater freedom of choice about rituals, which reflects society’s tendency towards providing more and more personal options.

He catalogues the stages over which funeral practices have changed in the centuries in which Christianity dominated our society but has now waned in its influence.  The churchyard was a radical innovation in its own day, with the dead remaining included in the community of the living.  The cemetery reflected the growth of suburbia.  Cremation offered a mechanisation of disposal of the dead in an industrial society in which belief in the afterlife was fading.  Death-style and life-style reflect each other.

A common element in the human response to death has been that it should not have the last word.  This is reflected in the order of the words in the name of the Centre he heads: Death and Life. It is a reality that life follows death, which may or may not be an expression of a theology.

For our podcasts, recorded in April 2010, Hannah Rumble and Douglas Davies were in conversation with Norman Winter.

  • Listen to the complete conversation with Hannah Rumble at the top of this page or download it below.
  • Listen to an extract of the conversation with Hannah Rumble in which she talks about findings emerging from interviews here.
  • Listen to an extract of the conversation with Hannah Rumble in which she reflects on natural burial’s relationship to wider society here.
  • Listen to an extract of the conversation with Douglas Davies in which he explores the significance of  churchyards, cemeteries, cremation and natural burial here.
  • Listen to an extract of the conversation with Douglas Davies in which he explains the value of studying death and funeral rites here.
  • Listen to the complete conversation with Douglas Davies here.

  • In 2010 I contributed to a running debate on Cemeteryscapes with regards to what makes a cemetery a cemetery? It would appear that we are no nearer to answering this question in relation to natural burial! To read the debate, click here. The author of Cemeteryscapes, Dr Maren Deepwell, offers her reflection here.

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