REL 167K/HIST 167K


Th. Emil Homerin 
Department of Religion & Classics
University of Rochester
This course will examine gravestones and funerary architecture in Rochester's historic Mt. Hope cemetery. Students will be introduced to western funeral ritual and practice, with a particular focus on funerary architecture and cemeteries in the United States, and the place of graves and graveyards in popular fiction and culture. They will examine the iconography and epigraphy of gravestones and funerary monuments in terms of their function of forging symbolic connections among the living and the dead. Case studies will be drawn from Mt. Hope cemetery, which will further serve to illuminate both Rochester's history, and American religious belief and practice.

Students in Speaking Stones will also learn how death and burial relate to business and entrepreneurship.   On the negative side are those in the funeral industry who have sought to maximize their profits at the expense of the bereaved.  Beginning in the early 20th century, a number of cemetery managers began to think seriously on issues of competition and the sale of plots, cremation, and other services.  This, in turn, led to regulations by New York and other states against "profiteering from sorrow," and legislation to limit the commercialization of cemeteries.  Perhaps the most famous expose of corruption within this industry is Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death Revisited, which will be read during the course. Yet, in contrast to this negative and often sensational profiteering has been the honest and diligent efforts by many funeral directors and cemetery managers to meet the needs of the families and friends of the deceased while attempting to meet their business goals.  Their creative and, sometimes, controversial entrepreneurship is more difficult to objectify than instances of blatant corruption.  Therefore, to enhance course readings, relevant professionals will meet with the class to address current trends in cemetery management and funerary practice reflecting an entrepreneurial spirit. In this way, students will be better able to understand the complex and, at times, difficult relationship between entrepreneurship and death.


Course Syllabus

Course Calendar

Electronic Reserve Readings

Field Reports & Essays

Important Links