Despiritualizing Death: A Comparative Study of Perspectives on Death in Medical Fiction

  • Hanan Alazaz Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Keywords: death, medical fiction, Yūsuf Idrīs, Samuel Shem, spirituality, secularism


Many cultures venerate the process of dying and view it as a moment of passing into another world beyond what the living can experience with their senses. This perception especially in Abrahamic religions and cultures shaped by these religions is the source of the spiritualization of death. The process of dying becomes a journey of the spirit leaving the body, and it is a journey that needs to be honored. The adoption of Western medicine in the Arab world, however, has shifted these perceptions from venerated spiritualization to being viewed as a strictly biological process of the end of life. This cultural shift is represented in some short stories by the Egyptian writer Yūsuf Idrīs (1927–1991). His narrative might have been an allusion to a secular cultural shift that is experienced by medical staff in the 1960s and 1970s, who found themselves in a liminality of cultures. Yūsuf Idrīs’s short stories are analyzed in comparison with The House of God (1978) by the American author Samuel Shem (b. 1944). This comparative study of the two authors’ texts will examine the representation of cultural tensions in the medical field caused by the shift toward secularism, as these writers focus on how the spirituality of death can be shifted to the body and even sensualized. However, as Seamus O’Mahony suggests in The Way We Die Now (2016), in the medical field, dealing with death has become an attempt to control nature. These two representations may also be related to the illusion of control over death in the medical field.

Special Issue on Medicine in the Mirror of Arabic and World Literature