Sociology 264

Sociology 264: Death and Dying

Death and Dying, taught by Dr. Deborah Gold, examines multiple perspectives on death and dying in America while acknowledging how various other cultures/religions manage and view the process of death.

Students are exposed to a variety of disciplinary approaches to help better understand the sociocultural experience, the ethical considerations, and the economic and emotional costs of the end of life process. Some of these approaches include:

  • Critical engagement with Kubler-Ross "Stage Theory of Death and Dying"
  • Examination of the financial costs of funerals and medical care provided to both terminal patients as well as seniors approaching the end of life
  • Engagement with ethical issues pertaining to life-sustaining medical treatments, as well as euthanasia and physician assisted suicide
  • Religious and community rituals of death and dying, as well as how the individual psychologically copes with the various stages of mourning

Service-Learning in Death and Dying

Service-learning is a central aspect of the Death and Dying course, allowing students to intimately experience and reflect upon the end of life process in a way that few members of their age group do. The following community partners have graciously agreed to welcome Duke students who take the course into their work:

  • Duke HomeCare & Hospice
  • Durham VA Medical Center
  • Hillcrest Convalescent Center
  • Duke Children's Hospital
  • Grace Healthcare Durham
  • Meals on Wheels
  • Durham Regent Retirement Residence
  • The Forest at Duke Continuing Care Retirement Community
  • Spring Arbor Assisted Living

Not only do students gain valuable insight and real world experience that pertains to coursework, but they also provide service to the Durham community that course partners describe as invaluable. Students are usually paired with one resident or patient at a retirement or medical site, and form a personal relationships: sharing stories, encouraging and helping with physical activities, and providing contact to the world outside of the facility.


To encourage reflection, service is accompanied by LEAPS reflection sessions. LEAPS (Learning through Experience, Action, Partnership, and Service) is a student-run organization comprised of trained student leaders who help facilitate reflection sessions. These reflection sessions allow students to focus on specific issues pertaining to their volunteer sites through activities and discussion.  For example, an "aging simulation" helps students empathize with older individuals by giving the students an experience of limited vision and mobility (using cellophane blindfolds and braces).

Dr. Gold was the faculty recipient of the Betsy Alden Outstanding Service Learning Award  in the spring of 2010.
For more information on the course, please contact Dr. Gold.