Upcoming Events

Women Scholars’ Speaker Series 2021-2022 Virtual Events
"Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Death, Dying & Grief"

The Women Scholars’ Speakers Series co-chairs Dr. Suzanne Lenon (Women & Gender Studies) and Mia van Leeuwen (Faculty of Fine Arts, Drama) have curated a death-themed approach to the 2021-2022 season. “Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Death, Dying & Grief” invites researchers, artists, and educators to discuss various topics including memorialization, the materiality of death, ecological approaches to death and dying, death in popular culture and performance. Bringing together a multitude of insights and perspectives on death, dying and grief feels all the more urgent in this time of Covid-19.

The 2021-2022 series will remain an online event, open and free to the public. 

Tuesday October 19, 7-8:30pm (via Zoom)

"Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Death, Dying & Grief: Opening Panel"

  • Rebecca Many Grey Horses
  • Dr. Jennifer Otto
  • Mia van Leeuwen

Moderated by Dr. Suzanne Lenon

Link to webinar; no registration is required. 


Rebecca Many Grey Horses, Educator, MA in Jurisprudence in Indian Law

“Taking the Wolf Trail to the Ancestors”

Abstract: Rebecca presents a Blackfoot perspective on death and dying, using Blackfoot legends, stories, and teachings.  Blackfoot legends teach about the circle of life, from birth to the afterlife. Stories from warriors and knowledge keepers share the perspective on death and teachings that were practiced and transmitted through generations. The teachings from the ancestors about death include respect, grieving, and understanding the circle of life.  With colonization and assimilation, the Blackfoot perspective was discounted, and Christian beliefs were replaced with the old teachings. 

Bio: Oki I tsinohtss piyaki (Rebecca Many Grey Horses), is a Blackfoot woman from the Kainai Nation in Southern Alberta.  Her traditional Blackfoot teachings and upbringing has given her the skills to educate on Blackfoot perspectives and worldviews.  Having a MA in Jurisprudence in Indian Law provides the academic background to consult, educate, and work in many areas.  Rebecca loves to teach about Indigenous/ Blackfoot stories, traditions, and perspectives.

Dr. Jennifer Otto, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Religious Studies, ULETH

“Caring for the Sick and Commemorating the Dead with Christians Past and Present”

Abstract: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring, religious groups around the world were confronted with the challenge of adapting their funerary rituals to comply with the demands a public health crisis. This talk investigates the ways that different Christian communities have altered rituals of mourning to pandemic realities, both in centuries past and since March 2020. We’ll begin by reviewing two formative historical examples, the Plague of Cyprian that ravaged the city of Carthage in the 3rd century, and the 16th century bubonic plague outbreak in Wittenberg, Germany, and see how the memory of these past plagues has informed Christian responses to COVID-19. We’ll then explore a range of ways in which Christians have adapted their traditional rituals in order to commemorate the dead and support the grieving in an era of social distancing.  

Bio: Jennifer Otto (PhD, McGill) joined the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Lethbridge in 2018. Her research and teaching explore ways that Christians remember and retell stories about their past, and how these memories and retellings shape their self-understanding in the present. She is the author of Philo of Alexandria and the Construction of Jewishness in Early Christian Writings (OUP, 2018). Her current research project, "Remembering Anabaptist Martyrs", investigates the reception and representation of early Christian martyrs among Anabaptists in the 16th century and in the present day. The project is funded by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant. 

Mia van Leeuwen, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Fine Arts, Drama

“How to Raise a Ghost: Memento Mori as Contemporary Praxis”

Abstract: How to Raise a Ghost is a tentacular project that explores arts-based research as a mode of inquiry into the vast subject of death. The work engages in death studies research, collaborative artistic practice (performance, ritual, movement, photography, video), play, contemplation, creative writing, and interviews with a variety of artists about their relationship to death. The work is participating in a significant artistic and cultural movement to explore art-making that is death-facing. This excavation is rooted in the ancient practice of memento mori (Latin for remember you must die); played through a contemporary and secular praxis.

Bio: Mia practices the body of performance to explore wide-ranging themes (fandom, whiteness, death, religion, pop culture) – while playfully blurring the lines between theatre and visual art. Queering, juxtaposing, unsettling, disturbing, re-mixing, winking, collaborating, baring process, and making strange are some of the actions that inform the devising of her various projects. Mia’s recent ventures include Sapientia (Montreal 2019, Lethbridge 2018, Winnipeg 2015), Destroy She Said  (Winnipeg 2018), Postcolonial Postcards (Dalnavert Museum, Winnipeg 2017), and White Bread  (Edmonton 2016 and Antwerp, Munich, Innsbruck, Belgrade, 2014). Her object theatre adaptation of Sapientia – a martyr play written in the 10th century by history’s first (known) female playwright Hrotsvitha of Gandershiem, won two 2018 METAs (Montreal English Theatre Awards) for Outstanding Independent Production and Outstanding Contribution to Theatre (produced by Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre, Montreal).

Tuesday November 16, 12:15-1:15pm (via Zoom)

"Queer Ecologies of Death in the Lab"

Dr. Tara Mehrabi, Karlstad University, Sweden

Link to webinar; no registration is required. 


Dr. Tara Mehrabi, Karlstad University, Sweden

Abstract: I start by introducing the Queer Death Studies Network and the contribution of the collective in rethinking death, dying and mourning. I will then proceed to present parts of my project that is situated within the network’s research initiative to queer ecologies of death. Relying on my ethnographic material collected from one year of participatory observation in an Alzheimer’s laboratory in Sweden, I explore queer ecologies of death in the lab as a material-discursive phenomenon. On the one hand, I discuss how heteronormative and humanistic ideologies about “purity” and “pure Nature” shape the space of the laboratory and regulate waste management practices. On the other hand I present how the materiality of the living and dead matter problematize such fantasies of purity and prescribed categories of laboratory waste. I argue that thinking with queer ecologies of death exposes the multi-relational and always mediated ontologies of nature and blurs the boundaries between life and death.

Bio: I am a senior lecturer in gender studies at Karlstad University, Sweden. My research interests are on matters of death and dying; gender, health and technology; as well as feminist technoscience studies.  My dissertation, Making Death Matter (2016) was an exploration of processes and practices through which death is materialized and becomes meaningful in the context of Alzheimer’s science. How different bodies become killable differently in the science economy of the lab and are exposed as waste. In my postdoc research at Turku University, Finland (2018), I explored death and waste management practices in the lab further so to contribute to the theorizing nature, life and death as interconnected and in terms of queer ecologies of death. I am one of the founding members of the Queer Death Studies Network and a member of posthumanities hub in Sweden. My current research is taking me on a new path that is matters of accessibility and equality in times of digitalization of health care in Sweden from a feminist new materialist perspective.

Tuesday, January 25, 2021, 6-7:30pm (via Zoom)

“Death in the Age of Rationality: Playing with Death in Popular Amusement”

Joanna Ebenstein, Creative Director of Morbid Anatomy

Link to webinar; no registration is required. 


Joanna Ebenstein, Creative Director of Morbid Anatomy

Abstract: Over the past 150 years, death, once a sacred mystery arbitrated by shamans and priests, moved from the realms of religion and mythology to those of science and medicine. At the same time, it largely disappeared from our daily life, with much higher life expectancy; people dying in hospitals instead of homes; and the dead body being outsourced to the professional, male run funeral parlors that replaced the traditional rites overseen by women centered in the home parlor. As death became more exotic and outside of our daily experience, it became more and more terrifying and, at the same time, fascinating. 

Although our affluent industrialized Western culture sees it as morbid, our interest in death has not dissipated. Instead, like other unacknowledged or suppressed psychological material, it has underground, to emerge in other, less conscious, shadowy forms, expressed in the unpoliced realms of popular culture.

This talk will examine western cultural imaginings of death in a "post religious” world by tracing the history of death themed popular amusements from the phantasmagoria ghost shows of 18th century pre-revolutionary France to the present, with looks at the Diableries, The Paris Morgue, The Cabarets of Death, The Grand Guiginol, and Coney Island’s disaster spectacles. 

The talk will end with a mediation on—and discussion on—how imaginings of death might have manifested differently in a non-patriarchal society, using the work of artists such as Graciela Iturbide and Frida Kahlo--along with the largely women run Positive Death Movement--as a jumping off point.

Bio: Joanna Ebenstein is a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, curator, photographer and graphic designer. She is the creator of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series, and was co-founder (with Tracy Hurley Martin) and creative director of the recently shuttered Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn. She is the editor of the posthumous publication of Mel Gordon’s “Cabarets of Death: Death, Dance and Dining in Early Twentieth-Century Paris”. Her other books include Anatomica: The Exquisite and Unsettling Art of Human Anatomy,Death: A Graveside Companion, The Anatomical Venus and The Morbid Anatomy Anthology (with Colin Dickey). Her work explores the intersections of art and medicine, death and culture, and the objective and subjective.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022, 6-7:30p.m.  THIS EVENT HAS NOW BEEN CANCELLED! 

"Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Death, Dying and Grief: Closing Panel"

  • Barbara J. King, “Animal Love and Grief: One Anthropologist's Response to Human Exceptionalism Around Death” 
  • AGLENNCO, MFA, “In Loving Memory, The Future”
  • Dr. Julia Brassolotto, “Age-friendly communities: Are they also “friendly” towards dying, death, and bereavement?”

Link to webinar; no registration is required


Barbara J. King

Abstract: For many recent years, the notion that other-than-human animals may love their mates, family members and friends, and mourn their deaths, was considered inappropriately anthropomorphic. Now, close observations of a variety of animals from orcas and peccaries to ducks and dairy cows show definitively that individuals may love and grieve. My work for the last ten years documents how animals grieve. It asks how knowledge of their practices transforms our understanding of human exceptionalism around death, and may offer meaning to people caught up in grief, both personal and felt for our Earth in this time of ecological crisis. 

Bio: BARBARA J. KING is emerita professor of anthropology at William & Mary and a freelance science writer and public speaker. The author of seven books, including her latest work, Animals’ Best Friends: Putting Compassion to Work for Animals in Captivity and in the Wild, Barbara focuses on animal emotion and cognition and the ethics of our relationships with animals. Her book How Animals Grieve has been translated into 7 languages. Her work has been featured at Scientific American, Aeon, Undark, SAPIENS, NPR, the BBC, Times Literary Supplement, the World Science Festival, and the annual TED conference in Vancouver. Her TED talk on animal love and grief has received over 3 million views and is available online. She can be found at @bjkingape on Twitter and www.barbarajking.com


Abstract: Softly to Pip is a science fiction future where the lines between craft, technology, and nature are impossible to untangle. Here, death is a choice rarely made. Is Dying Right for You? is a stream of consciousness exploration of a fictional theology where the afterlife is based on how the physical body decomposes as an alternative to existing morality-based afterlives.

In fantasy, death is not inevitable. AGLENNCO’s work negotiates different relationships with death through the fabrication of funeral ephemera from a future that has not come to pass. In this talk the artist will discuss opposing fantasies of death and immortality present in their projects Softly to Pip and Is Dying Right for You?

Bio: AGLENNCO is a multimedia artist who tells stories about craft and technology using printmaking, textiles, and comics. They weave scifi/fantasy myths about alternative futures set in their home state of New Jersey. They have a BFA in Illustration from Parsons School of Design and a MFA in Craft Media from Alberta University of the Arts.

Dr. Julia Brassolotto

Abstract: For over a decade, much global attention has been paid to “age-friendly” communities. These communities are designed to be supportive, accessible, and inclusive across the life course. While doing research in this area, Drs. Julia Brassolotto and Albert Banerjee noticed that the age-friendly framework and related strategies pay little attention to dying, death, and grief. This prompted a conversation between them about what “death-friendly” communities might look like and their potential benefits for older adults.

This talk introduces the concept of death-friendly communities. I begin by considering the medicalization of death in the West, that is, the way our relationship to death is often framed in medical terms and how dying has become the purview of professional experts, with death often happening in health care facilities such as hospitals or nursing homes. Against this backdrop, I explore the possibility of developing a more personal, intimate, and amicable relationship with mortality. What might this look like at a municipal level and how might this reimagined relationship support us when we are faced with death?

This talk will conclude with discussion of the compassionate communities approach as a promising practice and consideration of how else we might make our communities better places in which to live, age, and, ultimately, die. 

Bio: Julia Brassolotto is an Associate Professor in Public Health at the University of Lethbridge. Her program of research looks at care for older adults in a variety of settings and contexts. In recent years, her projects have included a feminist political economy analysis of rural long-term care provision, a multi-phase study looking at sexual expression in continuing care homes, an international study on “age-friendly” communities, and most recently, ethical and policy issues related to medical assistance in dying.