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June 19, 2024 24 mins

Funeral traditions around the world involve a range of rituals. From singing to burying to … eating. Why is food such a common practice in putting our loved ones to rest?

In this episode, Leyla Jafarova, a doctoral student at Boston University, examines the role of funeral foods in different cultural contexts—from the solemn Islamic funeral rites of the former Soviet Union to the symbolic importance of rice in West Africa. Food rituals help with bereavement because they carry cultural symbols, foster social cohesion, provide psychological comfort, and contribute to the expression of collective grief and remembrance within communities. Through food, human societies navigate the universal experience of death and mourning.

Leyla Jafarova is a Ph.D. candidate in sociocultural anthropology at Boston University. Her doctoral research focuses on the emergence and development of humanitarian ethics of care for the unidentified dead in post-war Azerbaijan and the production of knowledge in this regard. Leyla also explores how families of missing persons in post-war Azerbaijan construct their personal truths and navigate their experiences of loss and healing. She is examining how their alternative truths often exist alongside and are sidelined by dominant humanitarian regimes of truth that exclusively rely on forensic scientific evidence. This research has been supported through a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant and by a Graduate Research Abroad Fellowship through Boston University.

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