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Book: Religion, Death and the Senses

Chapter: 17. When Glaciers Die: Mourning and Memorialisation in Ecological Devastation

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.43891


In 2019 a funeral service was held on the mountain which, until recently, had been covered by the glacier ‘Ok’ in Iceland – the first of Iceland’s more than 400 glaciers to be declared ‘dead’, with many more predicted to follow in the coming years. This event, and many other like it, can be seen as an expression of a sense of loss in the face of dramatic climate change and rapid species extinction. Through the concept of ecological grief, developed as an articulation of the ways in which environmental change effects mental and emotional wellbeing, this essay argues that mourning and memorialisation of the loss of land(scapes) is a complex assemblage of acts of mourning, ontological positioning, political statements, and activist practice. Building on the work of Burton-Christie (2011), Willox (2012), Butler (2004) and others, in this chapter I will explore how a sense of loss and the responses of grieving, mourning, and memorializing can shed light on relational patterns and existing value- and power structures while potentially also manifesting, embodying, and nurturing ethical relationships with the other-than-human environment. While translating existing death rituals, such as a funeral, to a climate change context and human – non-human relations might present its own set of problems and complexities, this essay nonetheless argues, with Burton-Christie, that a sense of loss can be seen “as part of a restorative spiritual practice that can rekindle an awareness of the bonds that connect all life-forms to one another and to the larger ecological whole” (2011; 30).

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