Dr. Tony Walter

Tony Walter was born in 1948 in London, where he grew up. In 1970, he received a BA from Durham University in Sociology and Economic History, and in 1975 a PhD in Sociology from Aberdeen University where he had worked as Research Assistant and then Research Fellow in the Medical Research Council Medical Sociology Research Unit. From 1975 - 1994 he was a freelance writer and researcher, first while unemployed and then supplementing his income by labouring on a building site, by tourist guiding and latterly by lecturing. During this period he wrote his first 9 books. Since 1994 he has been Lecturer, and since 1997 Reader, in Sociology at the University of Reading, where he set up the innovative MA in Death & Society, of which he is course director. He has lived in Bath since 1977.


His main research interest since the late 1980s has been the sociology of death, dying, bereavement, funerals, pilgrimage and afterlife beliefs. His basic interest in this field is how societies organise, symbolise, theorise and ritualise the exit of their members. How does a country (say the UK) each year care for ½ million dying people, dispose of ½ million corpses, manage more than ½ million bereaved members, and (depending on your point of view) help ½ million souls on to the next life, not to mention represent all this in art, television and other media? Even within the industrialised West, different societies tackle these fundamental tasks in very different ways, opening these questions up to intriguing comparative and historical analysis. Such questions are clearly central for the sociology of medicine, the sociology of the body, the sociology of religion, and the sociology of the mass media. Tony has also built up wide-ranging contacts with archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and psychologists working in the same area, and works with them not only in the MA in Death & Society but also through the journal Mortality.

Before the late 1980s, he worked on the sociology of deviance, family, religion, landscape, tourism, work and unemployment. His PhD was an interactionist study of a school for young offenders. Details are listed under ‘publications’.

Four themes have permeated much of his career:


While freelancing, much of his teaching involved teaching sociology of religion in theological colleges, a very rewarding experience with highly motivated mature students. He has also been a visiting lecturer at Abo Akademi, Finland, and Chisholm Institute, Melbourne. At the University of Reading, as well as teaching on the MA in Death & Society, he also teaches the undergraduate unit The Sociology of the Life Course. He continues to be involved in training professional groups nation-wide, notably clergy and nurses.


His publications include 11 single authored books, 1 edited and 2 co-edited books, 37 scholarly articles, 17 scholarly book chapters, and 90 articles in professional journals, serious magazines and newspapers. He speaks frequently about death and funerals on radio, television and in national newspapers, and is regularly invited to speak to professional groups, not only in the UK but also in the USA, New Zealand, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Norway and Japan. Like several other members of the department, he has found immense interest outside academia in the insights that sociology can shed on a range of issues, in his case religion and death.

Other organisations

He has attracted £140,000 worth in funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Cadbury Trust. With Michael Young (Lord Young of Dartington), he helped found the National Funerals College. He is a founder board member of the interdisciplinary journal Mortality. He is a trustee of Citizens Income Trust which advocates and researches the possibility of a universal income paid of right to each and every citizen.



On Bereavement: the culture of grief, Buckingham & Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1999.

This is the first attempt at a sociology of bereavement since the work of Gorer (1965) and Marris (1974). Drawing on Durkheim’s concepts of integration and regulation, it explores a) the positioning of bereaved people between the living and the dead and b) the ‘policing’ of grief by families and other social groups.

The Mourning for Diana, Oxford & New York: Berg, 1999. Editor.

A collection of ethnographies, documenting what happened in the week or two after Princess Diana’s death, together with a small number of analytical essays. It is published in an anthropology list with a special interest in material culture.

The Eclipse of Eternity - a sociology of the afterlife, Basingstoke: Macmillan, New York: St Martin’s Press 1996

If religion, historically at least in the West, has been about fear/hope of death and life after death, it is extraordinary that the sociology of secularisation has almost totally ignored the question of afterlife beliefs in a secular society. The book reviews what evidence/literature there is, in order to clarify the research questions that need to be addressed. The book is unusual in bringing together the sociology of religion and a sociological understanding of death in modern society.

The Revival of Death, London & New York: Routledge 1994, 228pp.

This is the first book since Lofland in the late 1970s to sociologically analyse the ‘death and dying’ social movement. In so doing, it breaks new ground in relating recent work on the medical sociology of death to wider sociological debates on modernity and postmodernity.

Pilgrimage in Popular Culture, Basingstoke: Macmillan 1993. Ed., with Ian Reader.

Several of the pilgrimages described in the book are to shrines made sacred by their association with the dead, whether a medieval saint, Elvis, soldiers or war protesters.

Funerals - and how to improve them, London: Hodder 1990, 307pp.

The first book I wrote on death, a bit upside down in that I wrote this book for the popular market before I’d done the academic research. However, this book is thoroughly informed sociologically, historically and anthropologically, and illustrates the value of a sociological approach to funerals. Some reviewers’ comments:

‘Sets us free to choose whether to follow established traditions or to do something different’ - Parkes

‘This book is of fundamental importance’ - The Archbishop of Canterbury

‘Deserves to be widely read and discussed’ - British Humanist Association

‘A paperback mini-encyclopaedia that reads as enticingly as fiction’ - Methodist Recorder


‘Modern Death: Taboo or Not Taboo?’ Sociology, 25(2) May 1991. Abbreviated version reprinted in D . Dickenson & M. Johnson, Dying, Death and Bereavement, Sage, London 1992.

A frequently cited article that challenges Gorer, Ariès, Giddens, Elias and more popular advocates of the thesis that death has been pushed to the margins in modern society.

(in press) (with Peter Jupp) ‘The Healthy Society’ in P. Jupp & C. Gittings, eds Death in England: an illustrated history, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

‘Sociologists Never Die: British Sociology & Death’, in D Clark, ed The Sociology of Death, Blackwell 1993.

I’m pleased how fast the 1993 piece has dated, indicating how fast the field is growing.

‘Developments in Spiritual Care of the Dying’ Religion, 26, 1997: 1-11.

‘The Ideology and Organisation of Spiritual Care: Three Approaches’, Palliative Medicine, 11, 1997: 1-10.

‘Secularisation’, pp. 166-87 in P. Laungani, C.M. Parkes & W. Young, eds Death and Bereavement Across Cultures, London: Routledge, forthcoming 1996.

Using perspectives from the sociology of organisations and the sociology of religion, these articles analyse sociologically the rise of interest in spiritual care within secular health care settings, and ask whether these settings open up a new space for the spiritual or whether they subtly secularise the spiritual.

‘A New Model of Grief: Bereavement and Biography’ Mortality, 1(1), 1996

‘Bereavement Models’ Progress in Palliative Care, Vol 4, 1996.

‘Letting Go and Keeping Hold: a reply to Stroebe’ Mortality, 2(3), 1997:263-6.

‘Emotional Reserve and the English Way of Grief’ in K. Charmaz, G. Howarth & A. Kellehear (eds) The Unknown Country: experiences of death in Australia, Britain and the USA, Macmillan, 1997

(with D. Klass) ‘Continuing Bonds and Creating Biographies’ in M. Stroebe et al New Handbook of Bereavement, American Psychological Association Press, forthcoming.

‘Grief Narratives: the role of medicine in the contemporary policing of grief’, Anthropology & Medicine, forthcoming (Spring 2000)

These articles are all on bereavement. I have an ever increasing file of appreciative letters from practitioners and researchers responding to the first article. It seems to have struck a chord partly because the model of grief presented makes more sense of many people’s experiences than do previous models, but also because 1) it places bereavement in a sociological context which previous models have failed to do and 2), though scholarly, is written in the first person. I seem to have become an ‘expert’ on bereavement on the basis of just one article, which I find very curious.

(with Lucy Biddle) ‘The Emotional English and their Queen of Hearts’ Folklore, 108,1998: 96-9.

‘Diana, Queen of Hearts: mourning and social solidarity’ pp. 49-57 in C. Sugden ed. Death of a Princess: making sense of a nation’s grief, London: Silver Fish Publishing, 1998.

On the mourning for Diana, Princess of Wales.

‘Natural Death and the Noble Savage’ Omega, 30(4), 1995

‘Death in the New Age’ Religion, 23(2), 1993

Two articles analysing death in the ‘alternative scene’.

‘A Death in our Street’ Health and Place, 1999, 5: 119-24.

‘Funeral Flowers - a response to Drury’ Folklore, 107, 1996: 106-7

‘Dust Not Ashes: The American Preference for Burial’ Landscape, 32(1), 1993

‘Committal in the Crematorium: theology, death and architecture’ in P. Jupp & T. Rogers (eds) Funerals, Bereavement and Christian Theology, London: Cassell, 1997.

‘War Grave Pilgrimage’, pp. 63-91 in I. Reader & T. Walter, eds, Pilgrimage in Popular Culture (Basingstoke: Macmillan 1993).

(with RW Sellars) ‘From Custer to Kent State: heroes, martyrs and the evolution of popular shrines in the USA’, pp 179-200 in I. Reader & T. Walter, eds Pilgrimage in Popular Culture

‘Death as Recreation, Leisure Studies 3(1) Jan. 1984.

These publications pick up my earlier interest in the sociology of place and in material culture.

‘Disaster and Modernity’ submitted to Sociological Review

(with Katherine Froggatt) ‘Hospice Logos’ Jnl of Palliative Care, 11(4), 1995.

(with J. Littlewood & M. Pickering) ‘Good Wives and Wicked Women: They All Died Happily Ever After?’ in J. Littlewood, ed. Images of Women, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998.

(with J. Littlewood & M. Pickering) ‘Beauty and the Beast: sex and death in the tabloid press’, in D. Field, J. Hockey & N. Small, eds, Death, Gender & Ethnicity, London: Routledge, 1997.

(with M. Pickering & J. Littlewood) ‘Death in the News: the public invigilation of private emotion’, Sociology, 29(4), 1995

‘Angelic Choirs: on the non-secularisation of choral music’ The Musical Times, June 1992

‘The Mourning After Hillsborough’ Sociological Review, 39(3), Aug 1991

These publications look at public, and especially graphic, representations of death. Ariès and other historians have argued that the visual representation of death stopped around the early 20c. I show that this is far from the case, once one shifts one’s gaze from art to more popular representations.

‘Popular Afterlife Beliefs in the Modern West’ in P. Badham & C. Becker, eds Death and Eternal Life in the World’s Religions, New York: Paragon House, 1999.

(with Helen Waterhouse) ‘A Very Private Belief: Reincarnation in Contemporary England’ Sociology of Religion, 1999, 60(2): 187-97.

Two pieces on popular afterlife beliefs in the modern west.



The Human Home: the myth of the sacred environment, Tring: Lion, 1982, 224pp.

‘Stone’, Landscape 30(1) 1988

‘Hubris & Humility: Ralph Allen of Bath’. Landscape 29(3) 1987

‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone? The American Lawn’ Landscape Research 10(3) Winter 1985

‘Order and Chaos in Landscape’, Landscape Research 10(1) Spring 1985

‘You'll Love the Rockies’, Landscape 27(2) 1983

‘Social Limits to Tourism’. Leisure Studies 1(3) Sept. 1982

These publications analyse landscape perception, including for example tourist behaviour, drawing on a number of sociological perspectives, e.g. Durkheim, Mary Douglas, Fred Hirsch.

Sent Away: a study of young offenders in care, Aldershot: Gower, 1978, 178pp.

‘Towards Eliminating the Jericho Road: privatisation, responsibility and delinquency’, Howard Journal of Penology & Crime Prevention 19(1) 1980

‘Talking About Trouble: accounting for untoward behaviour in a List D school’, British Journal of Criminology 18(4) Oct. 1978

‘A Critique of Sociological Studies of Approved Schools’, British Journal of Criminology 17(4) Oct 1977

These publications arose from my doctoral work on staff-inmate interaction in a residential school for young offenders, using participant observation and symbolic interactionism.

Hope on the Dole, London: SPCK 1985, 206pp An interview study of creative unemployment.

Basic Income: freedom from poverty, freedom to work, London & New York: Marion Boyars, 1988, 175pp

Fair Shares? an ethical guide to income tax and social security reform, Edinburgh:Handsel Press, 1985, 152pp.

The two latter books set out the pros and cons of various kinds of social security reform: they are works of social policy rather than sociology.

Charismatic Christianity: sociological perspectives, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997. Ed., with Steven Hunt & Malcolm Hamilton.

The Eclipse of Eternity - a sociology of the afterlife, for details, see above.

Pilgrimage in Popular Culture, for details, see above.

(with Grace Davie) ‘The Religiosity of Women in the Modern West’ British Jnl of Sociology, 1998, 49(4): 640-60.

‘Being Known: Mutual Surveillance in the House Group’ Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions, 89 (Jan-March), 1995, 1-14.

These works are in the sociology of religion.

All You Love is Need, London: SPCK, 1985, 173pp. Published in USA as Need: The New Religion, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press

A Long Way from Home: a sociological exploration of contemporary idolatry, Exeter: Paternoster, 1979, 210pp. Published in USA as Sacred Cows, Grand Rapids: Zondervan

These books might best be described as religious sociology.

Plus 90 articles in professional journals, serious magazines and newspapers.


Requests for Tony Walter to give lectures, papers or training sessions should be made by phoning or writing to him at his home address: 15 Southcot Place, Lyncombe Hill, Bath BA2 4PE. Telephone +44 (0)1225-314833. Do not make such requests by email in the first instance.

Information about the MA in Death & Society may be obtained on the web at <http://www.reading.ac.uk/DeathSoc/home.htm> or from Mrs Annette Eley,

Dept of Sociology, Faculty of Letters & Social Sciences, The University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AA, UK. Telephone +44 (0)118 931 8519 (Monday - Thursday mornings), e-mail <deathsoc@reading.ac.uk

Requests for offprints and other enquiries:

Dr Tony Walter, Dept of Sociology, University of Reading, Box 218, Reading RG6 6AA. Telephone +44(0)118-987-5123 extension 7512.