Centre for Death & Society

Angels and Bereavement


Principal Investigator: Tony Walter

Project rationale and aims



  • Walter, T. (2016) ‘The Dead Who Become Angels: Bereavement and Vernacular Religion’, Omega, 73(1):3-28

  • Walter, T. (2015) ‘Imag(in)ing the Dead as Angels’ in H. Thomas, ed Malady and Mortality: illness, disease and death in literary and visual culture, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp.255-270

  • Walter, T., 2011. Angels not souls:Popular religion in the online mourning for British celebrity Jade Goody. Religion, 41 (1), pp. 29-51

In western societies, describing the dead as an angel rather than as a soul has recently become popular. First identified in a paper on online commemorative posts for celebrity Jade Goody, Tony Walter has subsequently developed his analysis of how construing the dead as an angel is used as a resource by people experiencing a wide variety of bereavements.

He argues that angels articulate continuing bonds: in contrast to souls, angels have agency and can care for the living, thus enabling continuing bonds of love between the living and the dead to be two-way. If elderly mourners themselves soon to die find comfort in soul reunion in heaven, younger mourners with many decades of life ahead may find more comfort in that life being guided by the angelic deceased. Also, in the visual online world where once-human angels are particularly common, angels may be more easily depicted visually than souls.

Walter’s work is the first to connect the content of religious belief with social & psychological processes of bereavement.

Project outputs and impacts

For previous publications on this topic, see the Jade Goody: Death Educator and Angel Project.

Related Research

Find out more about this project

Name:  Prof Tony Walter

Title: Honorary Professor

Department: Dept of Social and Policy Sciences

E-mail: j.a.walter@bath.ac.uk