Temenos Lecture 2022


Anna Sokolova: Imagine There is no Death… Soviet Funeral Reforming en Marche

Thursday 8.12. 18:00

University of Helsinki, Topelia (Unioninkatu 38) lecture room C120 / online

The Finnish Society for the Study of Religion is pleased to welcome Dr Anna Sokolova as this year’s Temenos lecturer. The lecture will be organised as a hybrid event so you are welcome to attend either live at the University of Helsinki or online.

Anna Sokolova is a scholar of Soviet history who works on the intersection of history and anthropology. Her research is focused on Sovet everyday practices, Soviet and Russian politics of memory, death and funeral culture. Her book book A New Death for a New Man? Funeral Culture of Early Soviet Union (2021, in Russian) revises the role of death practices in the Soviet approach towards new man and new society. Anna Sokolova is currently a Kone Foundation Fellow in the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.


The idea of human mortality and the funerary practices that derive from it seem to be one of the most enduring aspects of culture. What if we were to state that death means nothing else than a pure organic decomposing, leaving nothing behind but the chemical constituents? What if such an approach became the basis of an active reformatory policy of a state? Soviet practices of death and attitudes toward the dead bodies can be mentioned among the most important changes that have taken place in Russian society over the past 150 years. While Soviet leaders have been given lavish state funerals, the death of an ‘average’ person has become less and less visible. Although the state made considerable efforts to reform the funeral sphere, this did not lead to the development and enhancement of brand new funeral rituals. Rather this policy gradually diminished the social value of funerals and facilitated a transition to DIY funerals. Following Robert Hertz and Arnold van Gennep, I consider funerary practices as a social phenomenon and a social mechanism that allows society and its members to adapt to mortality, to experience loss and to restore their integrity. In my talk, I will show how a new understanding of human nature and human mortality transformed the social fabric of Soviet society. The lecture will be based on my recently published book A New Death for a New Man? Funeral Culture of Early USSR.