Sam Han

interdisciplinary social scientist

(Inter)Facing Death: living in global uncertainty

Modern culture was to have eradicated death, or at the very least, kept it at bay. Death, a mainstay in so-called traditional societies in the form of ritual practices, was usually gory, messy and putrid. But it still gave an immense amount of meaning. The question of what happens to the dead—where the dead go, what happens to them—can be said to be at the heart of traditional culture. In modernity, we had effectively sequestered death. Both medicine and science had sanitized it, embalmed it and packaged it. It was buried.

It seems that death is back. In an era of uncertainty—economic, political and social, we see it on TV, on the Internet; we see it everywhere. Death abroad, death at home, natural death, death by terror, death professionally produced and death caught on our mobiles. (Inter)Facing Death analyzes the nexus of death, mourning and media in the contemporary era in the context of recent developments in social, cultural and media theory. It argues that death is no longer simply sequestered but “interfaced” in various aspects of contemporary life, including art, online suicide pacts, the mourning of celebrity deaths, terrorist beheading videos, state funerals of politicians and data privacy, and provides new lines of thinking one of the oldest questions facing the human and social sciences. 

Ethics and morality in contemporary lifestyle CUlture

The project seeks to investigate the state of ethics and morality in contemporary societies. It attempts to understand how ethics have remained relevant in times that are secular and post-traditional. It begins from the premise that ethics and morality exist in forms outside of the bounds of formal religious institutions and theology, and thus have been “transvaluated” into other aspects of culture, especially in the realms of self-help and consumption, affecting processes of identity-formation and lifestyle. It asks and explores the following questions:

  1.  What is the role of ethics and morality in contemporary, (post-)secular societies?
  2.  Specifically, how do the ideas of morality and ethics affect the sense of self and lifestyle in today’s consumer culture?
  3.  What implications do changing cultural trends have for social entrepreneurship, corporate responsibility and good governance?

Intellectual aims:

1.     Provide a general case for the return of ethics as a field of inquiry in contemporary social theory and the social sciences more broadly.  

2.     Posit that social ethics is a way of understanding secularization and religion in a global era, which scholars of secularization have not done in favor of other analytic concepts such as modernization.

3.     Analyze how recent social and cultural trends are informed by ethical thought and language, especially in the realm of health (e.g., the literature and movement around self-help and self-improvement, physical fitness and food consumption) and commerce (e.g., social entrepreneurship and corporate responsibility) 

lively conversions: psychoanalysis, religion and social theory

Taking its cue from the work of Erich Fromm, this project scrutinizes religious experience, especially the experience of conversion from a psychoanalytic perspective. A work of synthesis and original research, this project critically assesses recent psychoanalytic literature in the study of religion but will also consist of interviews with religious converts. More specifically, it is inspired by the recent turn in the sociology of religion towards practice, a development known as “lived religion,” and explores the formation of religious identity, community and lifestyle in a world where the religious-secular divide is ever-changing, leading to more diverse forms of religion and spirituality.