Fortress Press

Corpse Care: Ethics for Tending the Dead

Corpse Care

Ethics for Tending the Dead

Cody J. Sanders (Author), Mikeal C. Parsons (Author)


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Corpse Care relates the history of death care in the U.S. to craft robust, constructive, practical ethics for tending the dead. It specifically relates corpse care to economic, environmental, and pastoral concerns.

Death and the treatment of the dead body loom large in our collective, cultural consciousness. The authors explore the materiality and meaning of the dead body and the living's relationship to it. All the biggest questions facing the planetary human community relate in one way or another to the corpse. Surprisingly, Christian communities are largely missing in the discussion of the dead, having abdicated the historic role in care for the dead to the funeral industry. Christianity has stopped its reflection about the body once that body no longer bears life. Corpse Care stakes a claim that the fact of embodiment, this incarnational truth, this process of our bodily becoming, is a practical, ethical, and theological necessity.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506471310
  • eBook ISBN 9781506471327
  • Dimensions 5.75 x 8.75
  • Pages 150
  • Publication Date January 3, 2023


Our culture and economy have encouraged and perpetuated many unnatural separations and the handing over of nearly everything to experts. Corpse Care is a gift. The book teaches a history few of us know and allows us to reclaim our own death and the deaths of those we love. In so doing, it draws together the relationship between birth and death--that to die is to give life. This is the practice of resurrection.

Mary Berry, executive director, The Berry Center, New Castle, KY

What is the revelatory potential of the corpse? Sanders and Parsons boldly confront us with the neglected question of an incarnational theology, and they address it with deep pastoral wisdom and critical historical awareness. Ironically, while Jews and Muslims find ready answers to that question in their own traditions, most Christians have forgotten even how to ask. This book belongs on the teaching agenda for every church.

Ellen F. Davis, Duke Divinity School

Sanders and Parsons provide a provocative exploration into practices related to our care for dead bodies. Well-researched and informed by diverse literature, their work notes the complicated history of care for corpses. Going beyond individualism, they name larger political, social, ecological, and theological implications for the way we deal with the dead. The conversations they invite forth are important for every pastor, seminarian, congregation, and community.

Joretta Marshall, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University

From Sophocles's Antigone to the green burials of today, Cody Sanders and Mikeal Parsons provide a stunning and comprehensive description of how human beings tend to the dead. They reveal the wisdom and the humanity at stake in how all of us travel the journey from humus to human to humus once more. This book is a treasure!

Thomas G. Long, author of Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral

Corpse Care is a deep dive into the history and present practices of how we relate to and treat the physical remains of humans. It is fascinating how culture, philosophy, and theology have shaped these practices and how the practices can also affect our relationship with the natural world. The book shows that seeing the corpse as a part of the web of life can help end our destructive assault on that web. I read most of it in one sitting. While I have read death studies for decades, I still found this book revelatory and intensely interesting.

Billy Campbell, MD, co-founder and co-director of the first green cemetery in the United States, Ramsey Creek Preserve, Westminister, SC

There is a deep fissure in our fundamental death-to-earth connection, brought about by relinquishing care of our dead and embracing practices that separate us from natural processes. This rich account provides a much-needed depth of perspective on how and why healing that disconnect can and should occur. Sanders and Parsons deepen the critical environmental and theological discourse over what to do with our bodies after death as an act toward climate resiliency and spiritual reconciliation by exploring what got us here and what will, hopefully, lead us home.

Lee Webster, natural burial and funeral reform advocate; author, educator, and end-of-life and after-death educational nonprofit leader