- Subject index
Dying is a social as well as physiological phenomenon. Each society characterizes and, consequently, treats death and dying in its own individual ways—ways that differ markedly. These particular patterns of death and dying engender modal cultural responses, and such institutionalized behavior has familiar, economical, educational, religious, and political implications. The Handbook of Death and Dying takes stock of the vast literature in the field.
Chapter 18: Symbolic Immortality and Social Theory: The Relevance of an Underutilized Concept
Symbolic Immortality and Social Theory: The Relevance of an Underutilized Concept
The study of symbolic immortality begins with the seminal contributions of the social psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton (1974, 1976, 1979), whose ideas have had notable impacts on the psychological literature on identity formation in life and on the thanatological literature on the continuity of identity beyond death (Mathews and Mister 1987; Shneidman 1973). According to Lifton, healthy individuals seek a sense of life continuity, or immortality, through symbolic means. When people lack such a sense of continuity, they experience psychic numbing and profound emotional difficulty, as Lifton (1968) has shown in his analysis of the survivors of the first atomic attack.1 Overall, Lifton's studies ...