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Death, Dying and the Afterlife in the UK

Death, Dying and the Afterlife in the UK

Theos is undertaking a research project in collaboration with the Susanna Wesley Foundation, exploring public attitudes towards death, dying and the afterlife in the UK and how COVID–19 has shaped the conversation and outlook on death.

Death is something many of us find difficult to talk about in modern society. According to sociologist Jack Fong, the “trinity” of the market, the media, and life–extending medicine have led us to avoid talking about death at the existential and spiritual level, and instead have created a society that tiptoes around and is uneasy about death. In 2015, polls found that only 21% of the British population had talked about their death with someone else, and just 36% had written a will. 72% believed that people in Britain are “uncomfortable” discussing death, dying and bereavement.  

The COVID–19 pandemic, however, has brought death and mortality to the forefront of public consciousness in a radical, and traumatic way. Not only have a great many people lost loved ones, but for many their grief has been exacerbated by being unable to spend time with their dying family and friends, or by being unable to attend or arrange funerals as they would wish to. The pandemic has forced many people, perhaps for the first time, to confront the inevitability of life coming to an end. 

How is this experience changing how we as a society talk about death, dying, bereavement, and what may (or may not) come after this life? What do British people believe and want when it comes to death? 

In conjunction with the Susanna Wesley Foundation, Theos is researching these critical issues. Among other things, we will consider: what do Britons think makes a ‘good death’? Are the bereaved receiving the support they need? Do people feel at peace with their own mortality? How has memorialisation of the dead changed? Does the general public believe in an afterlife? What do people think is the role of faith communities in supporting the dying?  

The research project comprises of a qualitative study engaging both members of the public as well us experts in the field, ranging from hospital chaplains to funeral celebrants and healthcare professionals. Its findings will help inform the work of those supporting dying and bereaved people and will enrich the public conversation around death more widely.  

The project will conclude in spring 2023. 


The authors

Lia Shimada, Susanna Wesley Foundation Senior Researcher

Lia is Senior Researcher at the Susanna Wesley Foundation (based at the University of Roehampton) with a background in participatory research and practical theology. She holds a PhD in Geography from University College London and an MA in Theology and Religious Studies from King’s College London. Her edited book Mapping Faith: Theologies of Migration and Community was published by Jessica Kingsley (Hachette) in 2020. Lia runs the Death Café programme at Brompton Cemetery, where her infant son is buried.

Simon Perfect, Theos Researcher

Simon joined Theos in 2015. He is a researcher and tutor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where he leads distance–learning courses exploring Muslim communities in Britain and in other minority settings. He is co–author of the book ‘Freedom of Speech in Universities: Islam, Charities and Counter–terrorism’ (Routledge, 2021). Simon read History at the University of Cambridge and has an MA in the Study of Religions from SOAS.

Wendy Appenteng Daniels, Research, Communications & Events Intern

Wendy joined Theos in May 2022 as the Research, Communications & Events Intern. She is interested in the relationship between culture and religion, education policy and the African diaspora. Wendy studied Religion, Politics & Society at King’s College London, including a semester abroad in Washington, DC. She holds an MSc in International Social and Public Policy from the LSE. 


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