The Afterlife in Popular Culture
Heaven, Hell, and the Underworld in the American Imagination
by Kevin O'Neill
June 2022, 360pp, 7x10
1 volume, Greenwood

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-6858-0
$107, £83, 94€, A147
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-6859-7
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Despite the widely accepted notion that Americans are uncomfortable thinking and talking about death, few cultures have been as prolific in creating representations of what happens when we die.

The Afterlife in Popular Culture: Heaven, Hell, and the Underworld in the American Imagination gives students a fresh look at how Americans view the afterlife, helping readers understand how it's depicted in popular culture.

What happens to us when we die? The book seeks to explore how that question has been answered in American popular culture. It begins with five framing essays that provide historical and intellectual background on ideas about the afterlife in Western culture. These essays are followed by more than 100 entries, each focusing on specific cultural products or authors that feature the afterlife front and center. Entry topics include novels, film, television shows, plays, works of nonfiction, graphic novels, and more, all of which address some aspect of what may await us after our passing.

This book is unique in marrying a historical overview of the afterlife with detailed analyses of particular cultural products, such as films and novels. In addition, it covers these topics in nonspecialist language, written with a student audience in mind. The book provides historical context for contemporary depictions of the afterlife addressed in the entries, which deal specifically with work produced in the 20th and 21st centuries.


  • Provides readers with an encyclopedic treatment of the afterlife in American popular culture, without any religious or moral biases
  • Connects depictions of the afterlife with general social trends
  • Contests the idea that Americans fear death by showing the plethora of examples of the afterlife shown in film, television, and more
  • Presents a serious analysis of vampires, zombies, and other fictional archetypes without becoming hyper-academic or humorous
Kevin O'Neill is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Redlands. In 1969, he cofounded the Johnston Center for Individualized Study. He has studied representations of death for more than twenty years, publishing articles on cemeteries, consolation literature, post-mortem photography, online funerals and memorials, and post-9/11 representations of death in popular culture. He received his PhD in philosophy from Yale University, his MA from Yale, and his BA from Georgetown University. He is author of Internet Afterlife: Virtual Salvation in the 21st Century (Praeger 2016).
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