The Memorial Idea

Stephen Prothero

in Purified by Fire

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2001 | ISBN: 9780520208162
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520929746 | DOI:
The Memorial Idea

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Many factors inhibited cremation's growth. Cultural practices are extraordinarily resistant to change. The most stubborn are religious rites, and of all these rites, the rites of death are the most entrenched. Successful innovations in American cemeteries inhibited cremation's growth. The vulgar utilitarianism of Sir Henry Thompson and others no doubt hurt the movement most in its infancy, but the effects lingered long into the twentieth century. Condescension tipped toward contempt when it came to attitudes toward African Americans. Cremation did survive largely because of a strategy of accommodation. The memorial idea was actually a cluster of ideas and ideals, or to be more precise, a rhetoric that supported a variety of practices. The story of cremation in America from 1896 to 1963 is a story of moderate success through accommodation. However, that accommodation did not go unchallenged.

Keywords: memorial idea; cremation; death; utilitarianism; Sir Henry Thompson; America

Chapter.  13510 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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