Angels not souls: Popular religion in the online mourning for British celebrity Jade Goody

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Abstract

The presence of angels in contemporary western popular cultures has been noted, but not their presence in contemporary mourning. This study analyses online tributes for Jade Goody, a young British celebrity who died of cervical cancer in 2009; though a few of these tributes mention souls, many more refer to angels. Some refer to traditional Christian angels transporting Jade to heaven and caring for her there, while others draw on an unorthodox but popular tradition of the deceased herself becoming an angel, in which role Jade continues to care for her two young children. Ambiguity and fluidity of meaning are evident in many of the angel tributes. They portray neither a theocentric nor an anthropocentric heaven, but rather one in which the dead can continue to care for the living; for this the dead need agency, which angels have but souls do not. Through the symbol ‘angel’, Jade’s lower class and theologically uneducated mourners succeed in linking three levels – pre-mortem identity, a broadly Christian notion of heaven, and the ongoing agency of the dead in the lives of the living – something that often eludes both religious and bereavement professionals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-51
Number of pages23
JournalReligion
Volume41
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011

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