CROSS CULTURAL COMPARISON OF DEATH IN ARABIC AND AMERICAN CULTURES
BY: ALI ZOHERY
Anthropology, s a holistic study of human beings in their cultural context, has
from its inception as a discipline been concerned with the study of man’s
mortality. Death-related behavior has been of great importance to many of the
central theoretical developments in anthropology, especially as it impinges on
studies of social life. Death and its ritual not only reflect social values, but
are an important force in shaping them (Goertz 1973: 94-8).A leading authority
on death and dying has pointed out that "the way that a society or subculture
explains death will have a significant impact on the way its members view and
experience life." (Kubler-Ross 1975:27). The problem of death is a universal
question, but the answer to that question differs among cultures.
This paper focuses on death processes in both American and Arabic cultures with
the purpose of highlighting universal and cultural specific characteristics in
this regard. Both theological and secular belief structures related to death and
dying will be examined. (Where specific references are not cited in relation to
the material on the Arabic culture, the information has been drawn from personal
The following table provides a global contrastive view of the theological belief
structures in the two culture regarding death:
Table 1.Belief Structure Issues American Culture Arabic Culture
1. Reward and Punish- Many believe in it. An overwhelming
ment after Death majority believe in it.
2. Nothingness Some believe in it. No one would admit
to such belief.
3. Transmigration of Some believe in it. No one would admit
Souls to such belief.
The Theological Belief Structures In American and Arabic Cultures
The Table above is intended to highlight the issues that are considered to be
common and those which are culturally specific in the two cultures. In relation
to issue no.1, it is obvious that the majority, which is Christian in America
and Moslem in the Arabic culture, bel