Talk of Death: American Discourse in Three Spheres Open Access

Bernau, John (Fall 2019)

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This dissertation is a study of how modern America talks about death. I examine these discussions in roughly three spheres (popular, professional, and personal) by analyzing the release and reception of the best-selling book on death and dying in the past fifty years, over seventy years of professional journal articles, and in-depth interviews with practicing healthcare chaplains. The concern with death as a social problem draws on broad theoretical and historical concerns, from the sociology of religion and secularization, to cultural sociology and the theory of professional systems. In addition, I employ and extend recent techniques for computational text analysis, from structural topic modeling to word vector representation, to better understand the role of language as a rich and meaningful source of sociological data. Ultimately, I demonstrate how the social structural changes in modern religiosity affect the availability and efficacy of cultural meanings as people look to their society for ways to understand humanity’s long-standing existential struggles.

Table of Contents

1.    Introduction 1

a.    References 13

2.    Study 1: The Institutionalization of Kübler-Ross’s Five Stage Model of Death and Dying 16

a.    References 58

b.    Tables and Figures 67

3.    Study 2: From Communion to Compassion: The Changing Language of Pastoral Care 78

a.    References 110

b.    Tables and Figures 117

4.    Study 3: The Language of Religion and Spirituality in Modern Medical Institutions: Evaluating the Efficacy of Small-Corpus Word Vector Representations 124

a.    References 156

b.    Tables and Figures 162

5.    Conclusion 181

a.    References 185

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