Abortion is one of the most emotional and divisive moral issues of twenty-first-century American life. Consensus has not been reached on the numerous questions that swirl around the subject, including whether or not a woman has the right to choose a legal abortion, and under what conditions; the role of parents if she is not legally an adult; and the roles of the state and religion having veto power.

Advance Directives

An advance directive is a statement that declares what kind of lifesaving medical treatment a patient wants after he or she has become incompetent or unable to communicate to medical personnel. Advance directives, which are recognized in every state, are a response to the increasing ability of physicians since the 1950s to delay death through an array of medical technology, such as respirators, feeding tubes, and artificial hydration.

African Religions

In the religions of Africa, life does not end with death, but continues in another realm. The concepts of "life" and "death" are not mutually exclusive concepts, and there are no clear dividing lines between them.

Afterlife in Cross-Cultural Perspective

The fear of death and the belief in life after death are universal phenomena. Social scientists have long been interested in the questions of how the similarities and the differences in the views of afterlife and the social reactions to death of different cultures be explained, and the systematic order that can be found in these similarities and differences.


In June 1981 scientists published the first report of a mysterious and fatal illness that initially appeared to affect only homosexual men. Subsequent early reports speculated that this illness resulted from homosexual men's sexual activity and, possibly, recreational drug use.

Animal Companions

There are more than 353 million animal companions in the United States. More than 61 percent of households own a pet; 39 percent have dogs as pets; and 32 percent have cats.

Anthropological Perspective

It is rather hard, if not impossible, to answer the question of how long anthropology has existed. Should social scientists consider anthropology the detailed descriptions appearing in the work of ancient and medieval historians—which deal with the culture of certain ethnic groups, such as their death rites, eating habits, and dressing customs—just as they consider the fieldwork reports based on long-term participating observations published in the twenty-first century?

Anxiety and Fear

A generalized expectation of danger occurs during the stressful condition known as anxiety. The anxious person experiences a state of heightened tension that Walter Cannon described in 1927 as readiness for "fight or flight." If the threat passes or is overcome, the person (or animal) returns to normal functioning.


The word apocalypse has many meanings. In religious usage, it identifies the last book of the Christian Bible, the Revelation of John; a genre of ancient Judeo-Christian visionary literature; or doomsday, the destruction of the world at the end of time prophesied by the Apocalypse.

Ariès, Philippe

Philippe Ariès (1914–1984) did not let a career at a French institute for tropical plant research prevent him from almost single-handedly establishing attitudes toward death as a field of historical study. After publishing a number of prize-winning books in France, Ariès came to international attention with the publication of his study of attitudes toward children, Centuries of Childhood (1962).

Ars Moriendi

The Ars Moriendi, or "art of dying," is a body of Christian literature that provided practical guidance for the dying and those attending them. These manuals informed the dying about what to expect, and prescribed prayers, actions, and attitudes that would lead to a "good death" and salvation.


The term assassin comes from the Arabic word hashashin, the collective word given to the followers of Hasan-e Sabbah, the head of a secret Persian sect of Ismailities in the eleventh century who would intoxicate themselves with hashish before murdering opponents. The word has since come to refer to the premeditated surprise murder of a prominent individual for political ends.


For over 1,600 years, the works of Augustine of Hippo (354–430 C.E.), the great Christian theologian and teacher, have strongly influenced religious, philosophical, and psychological thought. His ideas of mortality were informed by various belief systems, such as the early Christian view that death is punishment for original sin and the Platonic notion of the immaterial and immortal essence of the soul.

Australian Aboriginal Religion

Notwithstanding the diversity of Australian Aboriginal beliefs, all such peoples have had similar concerns and questions about death: What should be done with the body? What happens to the soul?


Autopsies, also known as necropsies or postmortem examinations, are performed by anatomic pathologists who dissect corpses to determine the cause of death and to add to medical knowledge. "Autopsy," from the Greek autopsia, means seeing with one's own eyes.

Autopsy, Psychological

The psychological autopsy is a procedure for investigating a person's death by reconstructing what the person thought, felt, and did preceding his or her death. This reconstruction is based upon information gathered from personal documents, police reports, medical and coroner's records, and face-to-face interviews with families, friends, and others who had contact with the person before the death.

Aztec Religion

At the time of Spanish contact in the sixteenth century, the Aztec were the preeminent power in Mexico, and to the east controlled lands bordering the Maya region. Whereas the Maya were neither culturally nor politically unified as a single entity in the sixteenth century, the Aztec were an empire integrated by the state language of Nahuatl as well as a complex religious system.

Bahá'í Faith

Barely more than a hundred years old, the Bahá'í faith emerged from the region of what is now Iran and Iraq, preaching a vision of the unity of all religions and humankind. The Bahá'í's believe that the great founders of the major world religions were divine prophets who served as channels of grace between the unknowable god and humankind.

Becker, Ernest

The anthropologist Ernest Becker is well-known for his thesis that individuals are terrorized by the knowledge of their own mortality and thus seek to deny it in various ways. Correspondingly, according to Becker, a main function of a culture is to provide ways to engage successfully in death denial.


Befriending is a free, confidential, and nonjudgmental listening service offered by trained volunteers to help people who are lonely, despairing, and suicidal. Unlike some approaches to suicide prevention, befriending does not involve telling or advising a suicidal person what to do.

Bereavement, Vicarious

Vicarious bereavement is the state of having suffered a vicarious loss. A vicarious event is one that is experienced through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another person.


Bioethics refers to the systematic study of the moral aspects of health care and the life sciences. Physicians have always made decisions with significant moral components in the context of medical practice guided by the Hippocratic obligation to help patients without causing harm.