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Death 101: Analyzing the end

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By Kawira Nyagah

(Andrew Conrad)

By Kawira Nyagah

Death meets four times a week at Riverside City College Campus. And no, it is not a morbid cult obsession. Rather, RCC offers a three-unit course that explores the diverse ideas and cultures that encompass death, cataloged as Humanities 18: Death: An interdisciplinary perspective.RCC is one of the few community colleges in the area that offers this academic mirror into the conventions of death.

This semester, Hum-18 is lead by Instructor Thomas Yanni, who merges lecture with student presentations to survey dying. The class covers ancient culture, multiple religious traditions, Western attitudes towards death, confronting death and mass death. Along with traditional instruction and student presentations, Yanni uses a slew of art and pictures, his academic strength, to make the class unavoidably lively.

Regardless of what you intended on drawing from the class, whether it be gruesome practices or a way to personal revelation, Death will lead you there. If nothing else you can engage in invigorating conversation with students. “The Western European Medieval mortality traditions are the most morbid of all the cultures we study,” Yanni said. Explaining that during the bubonic plague, people sought out to become comfortable with death because it had become an everyday reality. People were passing out manuals on “How to die” and illustrated death in peculiar ways. For example, depictions of “skeleton dancing you off into the sunset,” Yanni said.

This Y2K trend proved to be the class’s favorite because of its serene ideas on reincarnation and nirvana. Yanni justifies the pop-phenomenon of adopting Buddhism by saying, “it provides a more optimistic outlook on death.” In Buddhist tradition, a person has the opportunity of returning to Earth after death through reincarnation and this cycle is repeatable until one reaches nirvana, which is achieved after reaching total enlightenment.

Right before leaving Yanni’s office, conversation sparked over the upcoming ghoulish festivities surrounding Halloween. “I don’t like candy corn. I prefer chocolate,” he said.

In fact, the Instructor speculates that the holiday derived from anti-pagan sentiments that arose during the Christian Conquest. He clarified that Halloween was created to counter the festivities of All Saints Day, on Nov. 1, and All Souls Day, on Nov. 2. Needless to say, it has become an American favorite. By merging scary movies with parties and cavities, due to endless amounts of sweets, Halloween appeals to all age groups; in fact it competes in the ranks of Christmas.

All in all, death proved to be an exhilarating experience. With good conversation and a diverse course study, the class allows an individual to purge all queries.

Although you may not be so sure on the way you will kick the bucket, be assured the class will help you explore all the ways in which you may meet your respected maker.As the great Zen Buddhist monks say, “While living/ be a dead man. / Be thoroughly dead …”

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