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Zombies as Angelic Dark Side

Lately I have been doing a lot of reflection and research on the zombie in popular culture, and how it connects to both postmodern concepts of the body and the sacred. Among the materials I recently came across in this regard that has helped develop my thinking is the work of Gary Laderman, a scholar of religion who helps us consider religion in America beyond the traditional and institutional, and more along the lines of “sacred matters” in popular culture. One of his books connects these dots, and does so by way of reflection on the death industry and the zombie. In his book Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in 20th Century America (Oxford University Press, 2003), Laderman writes:

“The monsters in [George] Romero’s [zombie] film [Night of the Living Dead] are the dark side of luminous angels. While angels are eternally alive though disembodied, these zombie cannibals are eternally dead yet fully embodied. The film troubled and entertained many Americans because it tapped into deep-rooted fears and phobias about the cadaver, and it provided an incisive commentary on the disintegration of contemporary social life. “

I find it interesting that Laderman makes this connection between the religious figure of the angel, and the zombie. I wonder if in some sense the zombie may also be considered a religious or sacred figure in some contexts, even if it is only as the angelic “dark side.” This connection also seems to tap into religious critique as the zombie may also be informed by the disintegration of the dominant religious narrative of America. Understood in this sense, zombies reflect post-Christendom, postmodern forms of resurrection through the deconstruction of the Christian meta-narrative and a lack of hope in bodily transformation in an anticipation of a more nihilistic, in some senses posthuman apocalypse.

(Artwork accompanying this post is by Muyakami, titled “Zombie Angel Hero.”)

Related post:

“Angels, Aliens, and the Supernatural Other”

Comment Pages

There are 3 Comments to "Zombies as Angelic Dark Side"

  • Steve Hayes says:

    I’d be interested in knowing more about the origins of zombies and the spread of the concept – can you recommend anything to read in the topic?

  • John says:

    Zombies sure are fascinating these days, I just saw the book “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” for example…

    I have a pet theory about their popularity. I think modernist thinking separates the spiritual from the physical, so the human being, made as we are as a combination of the “dust of the earth” and the “breath of God” into a living “soul” – the two main sorts of horror stories separate the two completely and force us to deal with either spirits without bodies (ghosts) or bodies without spirits (zombies). While one without the other is truly horrible, the combination of the two is so normal that we take it for granted.

  • Steve, I recommend Kyle Bishop’s American Zombie Gothic as a good starting place which provides a historical and sociological analysis of the zombie. See my interview with him here for starters: http://www.theofantastique.com/2010/08/26/kyle-bishop-american-zombie-gothic/. John, I think the modernist does indeed separate the two, but the postmodernist seems to bring the two back together, so with the zombie’s continued popularity in the postmodern period I wonder if it’s more of a sacralization of the corruptible flesh. Thanks for your comment, and good to learn of your institute.

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