Although my own photographic/art practice is focused on old, decrepit cemeteries and related themes, I know there is a world of current funerary practice out there that would be fascinating to the sociologist, cultural anthropologist, or historian. I suppose I don't pursue that avenue of exploration because of a reticence to intrude on people's privacy during difficult times. I am more interested in the decaying visual remains of a Gothic Victorian past; when death, funerals, and memorials were a bigger part of life; when people participated in an overtly fashionable act of mourning.
A good book about this glorious past is James Stevens Curl's The Victorian Celebration of Death. [Phoenix Mill (UK): Sutton Publishing Ltd. 2000] This is a well researched history (PhD dissertation) of 19th C. attitudes, contexts and traditions surrounding the growth of the Victorian Celebration and Mourning of the dead. For a dissertation about 19th C. American funeral practice and attitudes towards death, see Gary Laderman's The Sacred Remains: American Attitudes Towards Death, 1799-1883. [New Haven: Yale University Press. 1996]
For those interested in current European funeral practice, in my first blog entry I pointed out Thanatorama. This French site (with English subtitles) features an inter-active audio-visual presentation to guide you through the immediate "afterlife" where you are the recently deceased. It is a fascinating journey through the cultural constructs of the funeral: embalming or cremation, and rites of burial as practiced in France today. Extremely well done. BUT be forewarned. There are a few images of actual corpses here...nothing gross or disrespectful, but a very informative story and well worth the journey.