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What religions around the world do (and don’t) say about handling bodies after death

PASSCHENDAELE, BELGIUM - AUGUST 02:  The sun sets behind the Cross of Sacrifice at Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial  on August 2, 2014 in Passchendaele, Belgium. Monday 4th August marks the 100th anniversary of Great Britain declaring war on Germany. In 1914 British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith announced at 11 pm that Britain was to enter the war after Germany had violated Belgium neutrality. The First World War or the Great War lasted until 11 November 1918 and is recognised as one of the deadliest historical conflicts with millions of causalities. A series of events commemorating the 100th anniversary are taking place throughout the day.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
The sun sets behind the Cross of Sacrifice at Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial on August 2, 2014 in Passchendaele, Belgium.

What happens and where we may or may not go after we die depends on your faith, but the rules for handling remains are pretty clear from religion to religion.

What happens and where we may or may not go after we die depends on your faith, but the rules for handling remains are pretty clear from religion to religion.

This week, the Catholic Church is reminding its followers what the rules are when it comes to cremation and the spreading of ashes. The Vatican released guidelines on Tuesday stating that the ashes of loved ones shouldn’t be kept in the home or scattered, but put in a safe place like a cemetery or mausoleum. The announcement comes ahead of All Saints Day on November 2nd and is also in response to the fact that cremation is becoming a more popular practice. But it’s not exactly a new directive from the Vatican. While cremation was expressly banned for centuries, the Catholic Church changed its position in 1963 and said that cremation was allowed, but frowned-upon.

The Church advocates for burial instead of cremation, which is rooted in its belief that the body is resurrected, and said in its document that it could not “condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the ‘prison’ of the body.” Yet many other religions encourage or even require cremation or the spreading of ashes after death as a way to reintroduce the body and soul to the Earth.

What do other major world religions say about how the remains of loved ones should be handled?

Guest:

Varun Soni, Ph.D., Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California and an assistant professor in USC’s School of Religion

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