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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Beyond Memento Mori: Understanding American Religions Through Roadside Shrines

  • Author(s): Solso, Allison Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Nyitray, Vivian-Lee
  • et al.

Using Daniele Hervieu-Leger's concept of a "chain of memory," this dissertation argues that creating roadside shrines to the deceased constitutes unique religious behavior, allowing collective memory to maintain vitality in a changing world and connecting generations through communion. That is, collective memory is enlivened by creating myths, rituals and performances aimed at transcending the pain associated with rupture and loss and facilitating the grieving process. In examining the sacred space, ritual life, identity politics and democratic ethos of shrines, this project asserts that shrine building and maintenance has long constituted an important public mourning ritual throughout American history, particularly in moments of dislocation and mass migration. This complicates traditional notions of public and private in the US and grapples with questions about death and dying in modern America. This project is unique in investigating vernacular memorials, rather than governmentally-sanctioned monuments, and in overcoming decades of scholarship that has ignored shrines' deep religious significance both for those in mourning and those who interact with them in the public sphere.

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