Women’s Work and the Uneasy Dead: Burial, Exhumation, and Reburial in Greece and Cyprus

Elizabeth Davis
Associate Professor of Anthropology
Princeton University

In this paper, I explore how bones are sacralized, read, emplaced, and cared for in two distinct contexts: first, in Cyprus, in the forensic process of identifying and reburying the remains of people who went missing during episodes of civil and state violence in Cyprus forty to fifty years ago; and second, in the religious process of burying, exhuming, storing, and visiting the remains of female monastics in northern Greece. While declining to render a straightforward comparative analysis of these practices and contexts, I pay special attention in both to the prominence of women in Orthodox traditions of studying and tending to bones, and to the work of time in the process of bodily and social death and resurrection.

Elizabeth Anne Davis is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University, where she is affiliated with the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies. Her research and writing explore the intersections of the psyche, the body, history, and power in the experience of Greek- and Turkish-speaking people in the Mediterranean region. Her first book, Bad Souls: Madness and Responsibility in Modern Greece (Duke University Press, 2012), is an ethnographic study of responsibility among psychiatric patients and their caregivers in the multicultural borderland between Greece and Turkey. She has also written on crisis and the suicide “epidemic” in Greece. She is currently completing her second book, The Good of Knowing: War, Time, and Conspiracy in Cyprus (forthcoming, Duke University Press), a collaborative engagement with Cypriot knowledge production about political violence in the 1960s-70s in the domains of forensic science, documentary film and photography, and “conspiracy theory.” Before joining the Princeton faculty in 2009, Davis taught in the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and at Columbia University as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities. In 2017-18, she was an ACLS/Frederick Burkhardt Fellow in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

Death Drives, or Thinking with the Corpse