Death and Bereavement Across Cultures. Second edition


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All societies have their own customs and beliefs surrounding death. In the West, traditional ways of mourning are disappearing, and although Western science has had a major impact on how people die, it has taught us little about the way to die or to grieve. Many whose work brings them into contact with the dying and the bereaved from Western and other cultures are at a loss to know how to offer appropriate and sensitive support.

Death and Bereavement Across Cultures 2nd Edition is a handbook which meets the needs of doctors, nurses, social workers, hospital chaplains, counsellors and volunteers caring for patients with life-threatening illness and their families before and after bereavement. It is a practical guide explaining the religious and other differences commonly met with in multi-cultural societies when someone is dying or bereaved. In doing so readers may be surprised to find how much we can learn from other cultures about our own attitudes and assumptions about death. Written by international experts in the field the book:

  • Describes the rituals and beliefs of major world religions;
  • Explains their psychological and historical context;
  • Shows how customs are changed by contact with the West;
  • Considers the implications for the future

The second edition includes new chapters that: explore how members of the health care professions perform roles formerly conducted by priests and shamans can cross the cultural gaps between different cultures and religions; consider the relevance of attitudes and assumptions about death for our understanding of religious and nationalist extremism and its consequences; discuss the Buddhist, Islamic and Christian ways of death.

Death raises questions which science cannot answer. Whatever our personal beliefs we can all gain from learning how others view these ultimate problems. This book explores the richness of mourning traditions around the world with the aim of increasing the sensitivity and understanding which we all bring to the issue of death and bereavement.


  • Part 1. A Conceptual Framework : Historical and Cultural Themes
  • Introduction
  • Culture and Religion
  • Part 2. Major World Systems of Belief and Ritual
  • Grief in Small-Scale Societies
  • Death in a Hindu Family
  • The Buddhist Way of Death
  • Jewish Views and Customs on Death
  • Christianity: Beliefs and Practices about Death and Bereavement
  • The Islamic Way of Death and Dying: Homeward Bound
  • Secularisation.
  • Part 3. Practical Implications and Conclusions
  • Children and Families
  • Helping the Dying and the Bereaved
  • Conclusions I. Implications for Practice and Policy.
  • Conclusions II. Attachments and Losses in Cross-cultural Perspective

Author Bio:

Colin Murray Parkes, OBE, MD, FRCPsych, DL, is Consultant Psychiatrist Emeritus at St Christopher’s Hospice and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist to the Royal London Hospital and the Tavistock Clinic, London. He is Life President of Cruse Bereavement Care and in 1996 was awarded an OBE for services to bereaved people.

Pittu Laungani was Reader in Psychology at South Bank University until his retirement in 2001. He died in 2007.

Bill Young is former Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at St Christopher’s Fellowship, London.


“An entire section addressing how professionals can make use of this information to improve their services further highlights that not only must we do more to tailor our approach to the needs of others, but also that this can be done. Much like any encounter with death, this book is a tough but meaningful, thought-provoking read.” – Richard Potter, The Psychologist

“The years that passed since the first publication of DEATH AND BEREAVEMENT ACROSS CULTURES have made this important contribution even more relevant both for healthcare counselors and for the general public. This book has been my faithful companion on my arduous trauma healing and grief work and teaching across the world. The range of the book is outstanding, unfolding with great cultural sensitivity the variety of cultural and religious differences in reactions to loss, death rituals and ways of expressing grief and mourning. In a clear and compassionate manner the books amplifies our understanding not only of the ‘other’ but also of our own search for meaning of life and death.” – Ofra Ayalon Ph.D., Psychologist, expert on psychological stress and trauma of natural & man-made disasters, Haifa University, Director of Nord Cope Center

“Death and Bereavement Across Cultures provides the perspectives that underpin best practice. It gets under the skin of culture and its impact on people and practice. This book is a masterpiece. This second edition is an updated statement of latest thinking on the fruitfulness of cultural diversity in illness, death and bereavement. A must-read for those working or studying in the field of end of life care and bereavement as well as health and social care practitioners.” – David Oliviere, Director of Studies at St Christopher’s Hospice

“Death and Bereavement Across Cultures is the second edition of the classic collection of essays first published by the authors in 1997 and remains a pioneering handbook for doctors, nurses, social workers, hospital chaplains, counselors, and volunteers who deal with death and bereavement… Many chapters are written by renowned experts in the field… An extremely valuable aspect of the volume is that each chapter includes a bullet point summary of its main points in very accessible form.” – Henry Abramovitch, Tel Aviv University, Transcultural Psychiatry.