A study by Professor Tony Walter, of the Centre for Death & Society, reveals that a belief in angels transcends any traditional theological belief in the soul.

Professor Walter studied online tributes to the mother-of-two who died two years ago following a highly-publicised battle against cervical cancer.

He said: “Until now, research has shown belief in an immortal soul as by far the most popular afterlife belief.

“This is challenged in my research into online tributes to Jade Goody; these tributes indicate that hope of the deceased being with the angels, or even becoming an angel, may have a lot more resonance for many Britons.”

In his research, Professor Walter says that by using the symbol of an angel, Jade’s mourners were able to link her life to the Christian notion of heaven and make connections between the dead and the lives of the living.

He said: “The difficulty with souls is that they are stuck in heaven, waiting for those on earth to join them; for Jade’s mourners, angels have the distinct advantage of being able to traverse between heaven and earth, caring for those left behind, and therefore articulate better the continuing relationship with the dead that many mourners experience, especially when either they or the deceased are young.”

Professor Walter’s article ‘Angels not souls: popular religion in the online mourning for British celebrity Jade Goody’ is published in the academic journal Religion.

He is Professor of Death Studies at the University of Bath and is the course director for the MSc in Death & Society. Prior to this he was a freelance writer before becoming a lecturer, then reader in sociology at the University of Reading.

Professor Walter holds a PhD from the University of Aberdeen, the subject of which was an interactionist study of a school for young offenders.

He also trains funeral celebrants and is the book review editor of the journal Mortality.