History of attitudes toward death: a comparative study between Persian and western cultures

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Journal Article

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Publication Title

Journal of medical ethics and history of medicine



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Death, End of life, History of medicine, Persian culture, Western culture


In his seminal book on the historical periods of Western attitudes toward death, Philippe Aries describes four consecutive periods through which these attitudes evolved and transformed. According to him, the historical attitudes of Western cultures have passed through four major parts described above: "Tamed Death," One's Own Death," "Thy Death," and "Forbidden Death." This paper, after exploring this concept through the lens of Persian Poetic Wisdom, concludes that he historical attitudes of Persian-speaking people toward death have generally passed through two major periods. The first period is an amalgamation of Aries' "Tamed Death" and "One's Own Death" periods, and the second period is an amalgamation of Aries' "Thy Death" and "Forbidden Death" periods. This paper explores the main differences and similarities of these two historical trends through a comparative review of the consecutive historical periods of attitudes toward death between the Western and Persian civilizations/cultures. Although both civilizations moved through broadly similar stages, some influential contextual factors have been very influential in shaping noteworthy differences between them. The concepts of after-death judgment and redemption/downfall dichotomy and practices like deathbed rituals and their evolution after enlightenment and modernity are almost common between the above two broad traditions. The chronology of events and some aspects of conceptual evolutions (such as the lack of the account of permanent death of nonbelievers in the Persian tradition) and ritualistic practices (such as the status of the tombs of Shiite Imams and the absolute lack of embalming and wake in the Persian/Shiite culture) are among the differences.

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