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Popular culture has reimagined death as entertainment and monsters as heroes, reflecting a profound contempt for the human race 

Table of contents

One. The Intellectual Origins of the Cult of Death
Two. The Commodification of Death
Three. The Monsters and the Humans
Four. Harry Potter, Tanya Grotter, and Death in the Coming-of-Age Novel
Selected Bibliography

Look Inside


The Celebration of Death in Contemporary Culture investigates the emergence and meaning of the cult of death. Over the last three decades, Halloween has grown to rival Christmas in its popularity. Dark tourism has emerged as a rapidly expanding industry. “Corpse chic” and “skull style” have entered mainstream fashion, while elements of gothic, horror, torture porn, and slasher movies have streamed into more conventional genres. Monsters have become pop culture heroes: vampires, zombies, and serial killers now appeal broadly to audiences of all ages. This book breaks new ground by viewing these phenomena as aspects of a single movement and documenting its development in contemporary Western culture.

This book links the mounting demand for images of violent death with dramatic changes in death-related social rituals. It offers a conceptual framework that connects observations of fictional worlds—including The Twilight Saga, The Vampire Diaries, and the Harry Potter series—with real-world sociocultural practices, analyzing the aesthetic, intellectual, and historical underpinnings of the cult of death. It also places the celebration of death in the context of a longstanding critique of humanism and investigates the role played by 20th-century French theory, posthumanism, transhumanism, and the animal rights movement in shaping the current antihumanist atmosphere.

This timely, thought-provoking book will appeal to scholars of culture, film, literature, anthropology, and American and Russian studies, as well as general readers seeking to understand a defining phenomenon of our age.

Dina Khapaeva is Professor of Russian at the School of Modern Languages, Georgia Institute of Technology.

“Dina Khapaeva’s book is a striking illustration of what thinking in the humanities can be at its very best. Starting out with the detailed description of a very unlikely situation in our cultural present, i.e. the tension between a general denial of death as existentially inevitable and a ‘neo-gothic’ fascination with death as a multifaceted object of entertainment, she develops a plausible and then increasingly convincing hypothesis. In her reading, this configuration becomes the symptom of a radical and historically new leveling of the traditional hierarchy between humans, animals, and things. I have never followed ‘riskful thinking’ practiced in a more productive way.”
—Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Stanford University

“Khapaeva’s book is a deeply thoughtful, clear account of how our culture deals with death, bringing it up close in new literary, film, ritual, and folk art forms. However disturbed we are, we cannot look away, and Khapaeva asks if we have perhaps slipped too deeply into these new kinds of macabre fascination.”
—Melvin Konner, Emory University

“Taking on the darkest themes of the contemporary nightmarish fascination with death and the undead in Russia and America, Dina Kapaeva moves beyond sociology and psychology to demonstrate how the fictional representations of vampires and other monsters in literature and film undermine central concepts of humanism. Rather than simply a celebration or sublimation of violence, the current cult of death reduces the relevance and centrality of human beings, rationalism, and religion. Lucidly written, her exploration is full of original insights beautifully revealed in investigations of cases from the Twilight Saga to Harry Potter. ”
—Ronald Grigor Suny, University of Michigan

Named one of Forbes (Russia)'s most-anticipated non-fiction books of 2020

- Forbes (Russia)

Read: Dina Khapaeva in Project Syndicate Link | 1/24/2019  Read: Dina Khapaeva in LA Review of Books Link | 12/26/2018  Read: Dina Khapaeva reviewed in LA Review of Books Link | 10/31/2017  Read: Dina Khapaeva article on neomedievalism for Project Syndicate Link | 1/2/2018  Read: Dina Khapaeva featured on Campaign for the American Reader Link | 6/6/2017  Read: Dina Khapaeva featured on Discover Society Link | 6/6/2017  Watch: Dina Khapaeva "Food for Death?" interview on Gefter.ru Link | 5/4/2017  Read: Dina Khapaeva interview on Deborah Kalb blog Link | 4/29/2017