Cultural Universal

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Cultural universals are specific behavioral elements that are common to every culture. Anthropologist George Murdock compiled a list of cultural universals, including sports, cooking, courtship, dancing, family, games, music, religion, and marriage. Although Murdok's universals are found in every culture, the way in which they are expressed varies from culture to culture.

Funeral rites are practiced in every culture in some form. A funeral is a ceremony marking a person's death. There are universals that have remained consistent in funeral service: announcing the death; care of the deceased; a method of disposition; a possible ceremony or ritual; and some form of memorial. These customs vary widely between cultures, and between religious affiliations within cultures.

On the Asian continent, China makes up the largest culture, in terms of population. There are two main traditions that are observed in Chinese funeral rites. In the first tradition, the funeral ceremony traditionally lasts over 49 days. The first seven days are the most important. Prayers are said every seven days for 49 days if the family can afford it. If the family is in poor circumstances, the period may be shortened from 3 to 7 days. Usually, it is the responsibility of the daughters to cover the funeral expenses. The head of the family should be present for at least the first and possibly the second prayer ceremony. The number of ceremonies conducted is dependent on the financial situation of the family. The head of the family should also be present for the burial or the cremation. In the second tradition, the prayer ceremony is held every 10 days. After 100 days a final prayer ceremony is conducted, but such a ceremony is optional and not as important as the initial ceremonies. In the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, to which most Chinese Buddhists are affiliated, it is believed that between death and rebirth there is an intermediate period called Antarabhava in Sanskrit or the Bardo in Tibetan. It is an important period which has an influence on the form that the rebirth takes. If the family ensures that proper assistance in the form of prayer and ceremonies are performed, the deceased is better able to have a favorable rebirth.

On the African continent, death is perceived as the beginning of a person's deeper relationship with all of creation; the beginning of the communication between the visible and the invisible worlds. The goal of life is to become an ancestor after death. This is why every person who dies must be given a "correct" funeral, supported by a number of religious ceremonies. If this is not done, the dead person may become a wandering ghost, unable to "live" properly after death and therefore a danger to those who remain alive. Many African peoples have a custom of removing a dead body through a hole in the wall of a house, not through the door. The reason for this seems to be that this will make it difficult for the dead person to remember the way back to the living, as the hole in the wall is immediately closed. Usually an animal is killed in ritual, although this also serves the practical purpose of providing food for the guests. Personal belongings are often buried with the deceased to assist in the journey. Many African burial rites begin with the sending away of the departed with a request that they do not bring trouble to the living, and they end with another request for the strengthening of life on the earth and all that favors it. Funerals are a time for the community to reaffirm its identity. Oftentimes they celebrate after the ceremony with dancing.

In Western Europe, Christianity dominates as a religion. Therefore, funeral rites follow the Christian tradition. A funeral may take place at either a funeral home or church. A funeral is usually held three to five days after the death. Some people consider it important to conduct the funeral exactly three days after the death. Funeral services include prayers; readings...
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