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The Comparison Project hosts lecture on death and dying in Navajo religious traditions

March 13, 2017
Michelene Pesantubbee

Michelene Pesantubbee

The Comparison Project at Drake University will present the eighth event in its 2016–2017 series on death and dying. Michelene Pesantubbee will deliver a lecture on death and dying in Navajo religious traditions titled “‘To Die in Peace’: Negotiating Advance Directives in a Navajo Context.” The lecture will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at Sussman Theater in the Olmsted Center, 2875 University Ave., on Drake's campus.

Pesantubbee is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa. She specializes in Native American religious traditions, especially Native American women and religious change and Native American religious movements. She is the author of Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World published by the University of New Mexico Press.

Health care providers in Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities and hospitals have long been reluctant to raise end-of-life issues with Native American patients for fear of violating tribal customs. Pesantubbee will discuss Navajo beliefs associated with illness and death and how those ideas informed Navajo refusal to consider advance directives. She will conclude with a summary of how the Fort Defiance Indian Hospital staff worked with Navajo social workers to devise a plan that resulted in extraordinary success rates in obtaining Navajo end-of-life directives.

The Comparison Project enacts global philosophy of religion in the local Des Moines community. It is supported by the Drake University Center for the Humanities, Humanities Iowa, the Medbury Fund, the Drake University Principal Financial Group Center for Global Citizenship, the Des Moines Area Religious Council, Cultivating Compassion: The Dr. Richard Deming Foundation, the Slay Fund, and The Comparison Project's special series sponsor for its programming on death and dying, Iles Funeral Homes.

Future events in The Comparison Project's Death and Dying series include:

  • Thursday, Apr. 13: “Funeral Rituals as Spiritual Practice in Chinese Daoism.” You Bin, Director of the Center for Comparative Scripture and Interreligious Dialogue, Minzu University of China in Beijing. Sussman Theater.
  • Thursday, May 4: “Concluding Comparisons.” Lucy Bregman, Professor of Religion, Temple University; and Allen Zagoren, Associate Professor of Public Administration, Drake University. Cowles Library Reading Room.

Special Event: Iowa Interfaith Exchange
From April 6-8, Drake will host the Iowa Interfaith Exchange, a free series of more than 50 presentations, panels, and performances on the current state and future promise of interfaith activity in the state of Iowa. Topics will include campus interfaith practices and principles, community interfaith movements and organizations, diversity and inclusion efforts in Iowa businesses and schools, multicultural and inter-cultural education, social and political activism in the state of Iowa, and meditation practices and cultural performances.

Events begin Thursday, April 6, with the launch of A Spectrum of Faith: Religions of the World in America's Heartland (Drake Community Press, 2017). The book launch will feature a short talk by Eboo Patel, founder of Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, as well as panel discussions featuring the authors and communities which appear in the book, and a behind-the-scenes documentary on the creation of the book.

The first day of breakout sessions begins on Friday, April 7, at 11:30 a.m. with a keynote presentation by Patel. Members of Interfaith Youth Core, in collaboration with Drake University and Simpson College, then structure breakout sessions on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. A Friday evening reception at the Des Moines Social Club follows the Friday afternoon programming. And, a concluding presentation by Interfaith Youth Core wraps up the conference late Saturday afternoon.

Registration for the Iowa Interfaith Exchange is free and available online. Snacks and light breakfast fare will be provided. Lunches will be catered each day by a Des Moines refugee community for a suggested donation.