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Day of the Dead

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An International Interdisciplinary Colloquium

Day of the DeadThe Day of the Dead Colloquium took place on October 31, 2006, the first day of a festival celebrated worldwide but with the most vibrant and elaborate extant celebrations in Mexico, assimilating indigenous and European customs. The festival traditionally reserved to honor the dead also marked the end of harvest season, and a stage in transhumance when herd animals were moved from summer to winter pastures. Thus, as shepherds came down from the mountains, families were reunited, while ancestral spirits were reunited with the living. In Ireland, for example, where All Soulís Day was known from the early Christian era as Samhain, meals were left out for the dead and chairs were set around the fire. Doors and gates were left open to allow animals and spirits to pass through, prisons were emptied, no one could be arrested, bonfires were set at crossroads, and the wearing of masks overturned the hierarchy of social status. Similarly, the medieval Danse Macabre portrayed skeletons dancing with people of all social ranks: paupers, kings, bishops, doctors, men and women. Death was the great leveler: all were equal before him.

The Colloquium embraced diverse ancient and modern cultural traditions, ceremonies and celebrations of death and afterlife, including Mexican Dias de los Muertos, the Psychology of Fear and Voodoo Death, Gawain and the Green Knight, Roman ghosts, iconography of death in Latin American art and literature and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

More than two thousand students, faculty, staff and community members attended lectures and readings on the subject of the Day of the Dead from a variety of interdisciplinary approaches, including anthropology, art history, psychology, history and literature. Twenty minute presentations were given by faculty from various disciplines in Liberal Arts. The Colloquium, which took place in Carter Hall, also included an exhibition of paintings by Michael Aakhus, photographs by Audrey Glassman, Michael Aakhus and Pat Aakhus, as well as Day of the Dead memorial installations, with flowers and photographs of departed friends and family of the USI community.

Click the links below for the audio presentations
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Session 1
9:00 am
David Glassman, Ph.D., in Anthropology:  "Death, Burial, and Cosmology among the Prehistoric Maya of Mesoamerica" 
  Christopher Bloom, Ph.D., in Behavioral Neuroscience:  "Terrified: The Neuroscience of Voodoo Death" 
(Abstract...)       Listen...
  Pat Aakhus, M.F.A., in Writing: "Samhain and the Danse Macabre: Boundaries, Hierarchy and Revolt--European Origins of All Soul's Day" 
(Abstract...)       Listen...

Session 2
10:30 am
Sherry Darrell, Ph.D., in English: "Young, Courteous, Brave SWMK Seeks Tall, Headless, Hilarious MGMK--for Game of Beheading" 
(Abstract...)       Listen...
  Leslie Roberts, Ph.D., in French: "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" 
(Abstract...)       Listen...
  Michael Aakhus, M.F.A., in Art: "Quetzalcoatl and the Lords of the Underworld" 
(Abstract...)       Listen...

Session 3
12:00 pm
Jim McGarrah, M.F.A., in Writing: Original poetry 
(Abstract...)         Listen...
  John Gibson, M.A., in English: Original poetry 
(Abstract...)       Listen...  Listen...

Reception and Art Exhibition

Session 4
1:30 pm
Ken Carter, Ph.D., in Cognitive Psychology: "Burial Rituals and the Birth of Consciousness" 

(Abstract...)       Listen...
  Tamara Hunt, Ph.D., in History: "Talking to the Dead?  The Rise of Spiritualism in the Victorian Era" 
(Abstract...)       Listen...
  David Hitchcock, Ph.D., in Spanish: "Laughing in the Face of Death: Black Humor in Contemporary Mexican Literature" 
(Abstract...)       Listen...

Session 5
3:00 pm
Teresa Huerta, Ph.D., in Spanish: "Death as a Mirror of Life in Octavio Paz's The Labyrinth of Solitude
(Abstract...)       Listen...
  Hilary Braysmith, Ph.D., in Art History:  "El Dia de los Muertos: A Celebration of Civil Rights

A Teaching Enhancement Awards (TEA) Grant Project...

through the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence and with support from the School of Liberal Arts and the Society for Arts and Humanities.

For more information, contact:

Pat Aakhus, Director of International Studies