Death and Funerary Practices in the Context of Epidemics: Upholding the Rights of Religious Minorities


This working paper explores the challenges that emerge when public health measures to mitigate the risk of infection during an epidemic infringe on the rights of religious communities to say a final farewell to their loved ones according to their custom. The paper aims to answer these questions: how does epidemic response in the context of death and burials frame and impact religious minority rights? And in turn, how do sectarian dynamics reposition themselves in the context of epidemic response?

The author explores the conflict between biomedical understandings of death and funerary practices within epidemic responses, and religious minorities’ freedom of belief and practice. I show how epidemic response is a secular project, and how its latent religious values linked to the creation of the nation-state generate particular dominant discourses of what is appropriate in death-related policies during epidemics. He also explores how relationships between dominant and minority religions, and other social dimensions, may shape the negotiation of ‘safe and dignified burials’.

The author draws on the experiences of religious and ethnic minorities in different epidemics in the past (Ebola and plague) when faced with emergency funerary measures that were against their religious practice. He also includes Covid-19 as a case study, as evidence is emerging not only of competition between public health goals and religious rights, but also about positionings of power between ethnic and religious majorities and minorities.

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Authors: S. Ripoll IDS, CREID
Year of publication: 2018
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