Berghahn Books Logo

berghahn New York · Oxford

Ultimate Ambiguities: Investigating Death and Liminality

View Table of Contents

See Related Anthropology Journals

Email Newsletters

Sign up for our email newsletters to get customized updates on new Berghahn publications.

Click here to select your preferences

Ultimate Ambiguities

Investigating Death and Liminality

Edited by Peter Berger and Justin Kroesen

290 pages, 11 illus., 2 tables, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78238-609-4 $130.00/£92.00 Hb Published (November 2015)

eISBN 978-1-78238-610-0 eBook

Hb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook from these vendors Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“At the theoretical level, the volume certainly makes a strong argument for the enduring relevance of the sociological tradition from Durkheim to Turner. Robben’s article alone presents a most poignant illustration of the analytic power of liminality in a contemporary setting. Berger’s valiant argument for Durkheim’s much maligned concept of effervescence should be taken seriously, for it seems to open a rapprochement between structural and cognitive science approaches to ritual.” • Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“With studies ranging from the Sora of India to death rituals in Ancient Greece, this selection offers a comparative approach that reinforces previous theories while also challenging liminality as some unidentifiable location… Berger and Kroesen’s compilation is a most valuable addition to studies on liminality and death as it introduces key theoretical concepts through varied and intriguing case studies.” • Religious Studies Review

“This is a hugely interesting book that will be a very valuable contribution to the study of death in social science and the humanities.” • Arnar Árnason, University of Aberdeen

“This is an important volume dealing… with the always-complex ritualization of death in comparative perspective, critically reassessing the work of some of the classic authors in the social sciences and more particularly in anthropological debates, and offering new theoretical and empirical angles to better understand the ambiguities inherent to death, burial, and afterlife beliefs.” • Francisco Ferrándiz, Spanish National Research Council


Periods of transition are often symbolically associated with death, making the latter the paradigm of liminality. Yet, many volumes on death in the social sciences and humanities do not specifically address liminality. This book investigates these “ultimate ambiguities,” assuming they can pose a threat to social relationships because of the disintegrating forces of death, but they are also crucial periods of creativity, change, and emergent aspects of social and religious life. Contributors explore death and liminality from an interdisciplinary perspective and present a global range of historical and contemporary case studies outlining emotional, cognitive, artistic, social, and political implications.

Peter Berger is Associate Professor of Indian Religions and the Anthropology of Religion at the University of Groningen. His books include Feeding, Sharing and Devouring: Ritual and Society in Highland Odisha (de Gruyter, 2014) and The Modern Anthropology of India (co-ed with Frank Heidemann, Routledge, 2013).

Justin Kroesen is Assistant Professor of Art History of Christianity at the University of Groningen. His books include Staging the Liturgy: The Medieval Altarpiece in the Iberian Peninsula (Peeters, 2009), and Myths, Martyrs and Modernity: Studies in the History of Religions in Honour of Jan N. Bremmer (co-ed with Jitse Dijkstra and Yme Kuiper, Brill, 2010).

Subject: General Anthropology Religion


List of Illustrations

Peter Berger


Chapter 1. The Ambiguity of Mortal Remains, Substitute Bodies, and other Materializations of the Dead among the Garo of Northeast India
Erik de Maaker

Chapter 2. Structures and Processes of Liminality: The Shape of Mourning among the Sora of Tribal India
Piers Vitebsky

Chapter 3. Liminal Bodies, Liminal Food: Hindu and Tribal Death Rituals Compared
Peter Berger

Chapter 4. The Liminality of “Living Martyrdom”: Suicide Bombers’ Preparations for Paradise
Pieter G. T. Nanninga


Chapter 5. Disappearance and Liminality: Argentina’s Mourning of State Terror
Antonius C.G.M. Robben

Chapter 6. Three Dimensions of Liminality in the Context of Kyrgyz Death Rituals
Roland Hardenberg

Chapter 7. Death, Ritual, and Effervescence
Peter Berger


Chapter 8. Hungry Ghost or Divine Soul? Post-Mortem Initiation in Medieval Shaiva Tantric Death Rites
Nina Mirnig

Chapter 9. Between Death and Judgement: Sleep as the Image of Death in Early Modern Protestantism
Justin Kroesen and Jan R. Luth

Chapter 10. Body and Soul Between Death and Funeral in Archaic Greece
Jan N. Bremmer

Chapter 11. Death, Memory and Liminality. Rethinking Lampedusa’s Later Life as Author and Aristocrat  
Yme B. Kuiper

Notes on Contributors

Back to Top