The Postsecular Zombie

 

One research thread on an upcoming project on zombies concerns the liminal space that the undead occupy between the secular and the religious. Whilst this is often portrayed as a juxtaposition between the religious undead and the secular living, what has become more apparent as the research progresses is the ways in which the undead actually reflect a postsecular streak running within a seemingly secular urban life.
Back in 2000, in Cities of God, Graham Ward wrote about Vampires as the endpoint of an urban project wherein “our cultural horizons are crowding with hosts of angels”, with immortality being the sought after goal. This is not some vague concept of “culture”, but is manifested in concrete forms in our consumer goods, and in our bodies
…the brocaded, fabulous couture of Gautier, Versace, McQueen and Galliano is producing angels of all of us. Our bodies are becoming prisons for angelic souls: concepts and construals of the perfect corporeality are disciplining us in what we eat and binding us with fears of infection. The cult of sport, with its glamourisation of sweat, flesh-not-fat and sculptured muscularity…all demonstrate that we are perfecting the techniques for turning each of us into angels. We are manufacturing and manufactured by a contemporary angelology.
This consumer driven angelology, however, finds its embodiment in the vampire, which Ward regarded as the hybrid between the human and the angelic.

More recently, John W. Morehead has in another essay in The Undead and Theology made similar remarks about zombies embodying contemporary aspirations towards acquiring immortality. In an essay entitled “Zombie Walks, Zombie Jesus and the Eschatology of Postmodern Flesh”, Morehead spoke about the zombie as more than a symbol of the end of life. The Zombie Walks, for Morehead, suggest that there exists an impulse to achieve “transcendence…of and through the body”. The zombie acts as a secular symbol whereby “Death is transcended in that the dead return to ‘life'”.

At the same time, Kim Paffenroth wrote another essay (entitled “Apocalyptic Images and Prophetic Function in Zombie Films”) in the same volume, in which she spoke of the zombie forcing us to “strain against the scientific framework that is imposed on them”. Whether it is in terms of speculation on the causes of the zombie apocalypse as judgements from an angry god, or the implicit speculation among characters of The Walking Dead on whether the human is a purely material creature doomed to stay the same, the zombie thus acts as our means to pierce that veil that divides the secular, in which science reigns supreme, and the “life of the world to come”, in which God sits on His throne.
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