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The podcast of the Diversity and Spirituality Network


Nov 20, 2018

How do non-religious people – which now comprise nearly 30% of the American population – face the coming of death? That’s the subject of Dr. Christel Manning’s John Templeton Foundation-funded research project.

Although a fair amount is known about how religious people face the certainty of their demise, relatively little is known how non-religious people do. This category, which religious studies scholars refer to as "the nones," now comprises 27% of the population, up from about 7% in the 1980s.

Unlike their religious contemporaries, this group lacks the powerful set of stories, symbols and rituals that have for generations characterized the predominate American religious approach to dealing with dying. This group instead relies on different types of what Manning refers to as "maps of meaning." These might include the sense-making that comes from personal growth narratives gained from such processes such as engaging in a 12-step program or therapy after surviving a divorce.

In this podcast, Manning describes her own belief-system journey; what is currently known about how aging people in general approach the coming of death; and the new types of secular rituals that are emerging to help non-religious people become more comfortable with death and dying.