Funerals today are noted for their emphasis on the celebration of the life of the deceased and for personalizing touches reflecting the wishes and choices of the family. These elements typically evoke memories of the deceased person or represent aspects of their life and personality. Celebrants also use images and motifs, such as light, to convey abstract ideas which may not be accessible directly to mourners and to assist in confronting the pain and challenge of death. Both religious and humanist celebrants draw on the language and images of their faith or philosophy as well as incorporating elements requested by the family to construct the funeral service. This article draws on the findings of a qualitative study, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, looking at spirituality in contemporary funerals, to argue that, taken together, these representations constitute a rich array of symbols and use of symbolism. The article concludes that these contemporary symbols and symbolic behaviours fulfil the same purposes and function in the same way as traditional religious symbolism and are core to a new spirituality around death which is emerging in the twenty-first century.
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