Mass death is a universal phenomenon that takes places in all socio-cultural (and religious) contexts. Some of the most recent events include the Ebola epidemics in West Africa (2013-2016), the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami (2011), the Rio-Paris AF 447 crash (2009), the Sichuan Earthquake (2008), the Hurricane Katrina (2005), and the European Heatwave (2003), and the current world wide Coronavirus crisis.

In the event of disasters, a primary challenge is the recovery and treatment of the bodies of the dead/victims. This process requires negotiations around the boundaries between the private and the public as well as the division of labor between the government/state, the medical and funeral experts, and the local communities and the bereaved families. It can involve discussions or conflicts between two or more states as the victims of these catastrophes may be tourists or other visitors of the land in which the disaster has taken place. These fatalities are often considered ‘abnormal’ since bodies of catastrophes are often mutilated, unidentified, contagious, contaminated or missing.

Because of the singularity and rarity of mass fatalities, one thus may ask: To what extend do conventional or customary mortuary rites and burials remain practical and relevant during a crisis? Does mass fatality call for the creation of novel forms of dealing with the dead? Do catastrophes threatens the legitimacy of rituals? The answers to these questions may reveal the capacity of death practices and ideas (grammaire rituelles) to adapt, contain, and nurture themselves on these extraordinary circumstances. Furthermore, one may want to ask if the plasticity of death rites is not one of the attributes that society requires to manage and bounce back from a disaster. In other words, the plasticity of funerals or its absence could mirror the capacity of a society to adapt, and thus its resilience in crisis.

To address these issues, we have gathered a international group of academics and practitioners of death rites working on mass death/in the context of disasters, aiming at establishing a multi-disciplinary platform and dialogue that hopefully will continue -after an series of workshops organised in 2019 and 2020 in France and Japan- to grow and consolidate across various countries on the five continents.

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