Cover of Being with the Dead by Hans Ruin
Being with the Dead
Burial, Ancestral Politics, and the Roots of Historical Consciousness
Hans Ruin

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January 2019
272 pages.
from $24.95

Cloth ISBN: 9780804791311
Paper ISBN: 9781503607750

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Philosophy, Socrates declared, is the art of dying. This book underscores that it is also the art of learning to live and share the earth with those who have come before us. Burial, with its surrounding rituals, is the most ancient documented cultural-symbolic practice: all humans have developed techniques of caring for and communicating with the dead. The premise of Being with the Dead is that we can explore our lives with the dead as a cross-cultural existential a priori out of which the basic forms of historical consciousness emerge. Care for the dead is not just about the symbolic handling of mortal remains; it also points to a necropolitics, the social bond between the dead and living that holds societies together—a shared space or polis where the dead are maintained among the living. Moving from mortuary rituals to literary representations, from the problem of ancestrality to technologies of survival and intergenerational communication, Hans Ruin explores the epistemological, ethical, and ontological dimensions of what it means to be with the dead. His phenomenological approach to key sources in anthropology, archaeology, sociology, religion, and, above all, history gives us new purchase on the human sciences as a whole.

About the author

Hans Ruin is Professor of Philosophy at Södertörn University in Sweden.

"This stunning book is unlike any other I have read on the topic of death. Hans Ruin's philosophical analysis does important work that previous books simply have not attempted or achieved. His investigation into what we do with the dead allows us to gain purchase on what is at stake in the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, literature, religion, and above all history."

—Ethan Kleinberg, Wesleyan University

"Hans Ruin's excellent book extends the phenomenology of death in new and interesting ways. His insights into the cultural significance of death, integrating it with the philosophical literature, make this a remarkable achievement."

—James Risser, Seattle University

"What is the historian's relationship to death? What does it mean to be with the dead: as their caretakers, keepers of their legacy, guardians of their afterlife? These are the questions at the center of Hans Ruin's highly original exploration of the connections between burial practices and historical writing. This beautifully written book is an example of interdisciplinarity at its best, combining deft philosophical argument with the insights of social and cultural history. It should provoke historians, especially, to think critically about the ethical, spiritual, and political stakes of the work they do."

—Joan Wallach Scott, Institute for Advanced Study