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Godless People and Dead Bodies

Materiality and the Morality of Atheist Materialism

Jacob Copeman and Johannes Quack

Atheists are not the only people who donate their bodies, yet the practice is strikingly prevalent in a variety of atheist circles. We concentrate here on the Indian case, exploring body donation as a key instance of the material culture of atheism. Recent efforts to reinvigorate study of the material culture of religion are to be welcomed, but they should be extended to non-religion in order to address the irony that sees scholars representing materialism as an abstract doctrine and, hence, as immaterial. Body donation holds value for Indian atheists as a bridge between 'positive' and 'negative' modes of atheist thought and action. It also provides a ready-made solution for atheist activists keen to circumvent the cadaver-centered death rituals they find so redundant.

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Jacob Copeman

This article explores emerging ascetic orientations toward utility and death in India. It chronicles the activities of an innovative organization that campaigns for cadaver donations for the purposes of organ retrieval and dissection by trainee doctors. This would entail dispensing with cremation, a mode of cadaver disposal newly characterized as wasteful. In order to counter 'cremation-lack', the asceticism of cadaver donation is accentuated by the organization. The group thereby reinterprets classical Hinduism according to the demands of 'medical rationality'. This produces a novel 'donation theology' and additionally serves to demonstrate the 'asceticism' by which all voluntary donors of body material are obliged to abide.

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Jack Hunter, Annelin Eriksen, Jon Mitchell, Mattijs van de Port, Magnus Course, Nicolás Panotto, Ruth Barcan, David M. R. Orr, Girish Daswani, Piergiorgio Di Giminiani, Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Sofía Ugarte, Ryan J. Cook, Bettina E. Schmidt and Mylene Mizrahi

, humanism, and so forth. Jacob Copeman and Johannes Quack explore the attachment of self-professed atheists and rationalists to the practice of post-mortem body donation in India. Positioning the body at the center of atheist-rationalist material culture