What is Thanatology?
Put most simply, Thanatology is the study of death and dying.

How Old is the Field? Where Did it Come from?

The word ‘Thanatology’ was coined by Ilya Mechnikov (Elie Metchnikoff) in his text The Nature of Man: Studies in Optimistic Philosophy in 1905. He also first used the word ‘Gerontology’ which is the study of aging.

Elie Metchnikoff (he coined the word ‘thanatology’)

Elie Metchnikoff (he coined the word ‘thanatology’)

Want to read the first mention of the word? Here you go:

I think it extremely probable that the scientific study of old age and death, two branches of science that may be called gerontology and thanatology, will bring about great modifications in the course of the last period of life. {p 297-298}

That said, humans have been studying death and dying as long as we’ve been, well, dying. Can you imagine our oldest ancestors NOT thinking about the fact that people were dying? About how that might work? Or why it was happening?

What’s unique about the field is that the study of death and dying has been pulled out of or ignored by other fields. Some physicians reported receiving less than 12 hours of education related specifically to death and dying while in medical school. This is training and education on things like how to handle discussions about it with patients, how to grieve the loss of a patient or the mechanics of active death (how the body naturally ‘dies’).

Death is something that happens to every living thing and therefore is something that tends to overlap with everything else at some point or another. If you cross death with another area, there’s probably a thanatologist somewhere focusing on it.


Are there different types of Thanatology?

Yes! There are many!

Here are a few:

  • Evolutionary Thanatology

  • Music Thanatology

  • Comparative Thanatology

  • Corvid Thanatology

  • Pastoral Thanatology

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