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Life after Death in World Religions
Life after Death in World Religions
Description
Preface

The chapters in this book evolved from lectures given in the annual Distinguished Speakers Series organized by the Centre for Speakers Series organized by the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society and co-sponsored by the University of Victoria’s Division of Continuing Studies.

The Centre for Studies in Religion and Society was established at the University of Victoria in 1991 to foster the scholarly study of religion in relation to the sciences, ethics, social and economic development, and other aspects of culture. The primary aim is to promote dialogue between religion and these other aspects of human experience. The Centre has a fundamental commitment to pluralism and pursues a broad range of research interests not limited to any specific time, place, religion, or culture. It embodies the understanding that religious traditions have been formative of human reality and experience, and that the speeches are the proper object of creative, rigorous inquiry, whether from a disciplinary or an interdisciplinary perspective.

Each year the Centre invites distinguished scholars from various religions to speak on a common theme from the perspective of their own traditions. The 1995 Distinguished Speakers Series on Life After Death evoked such strong and positive audience response that the speeches were augmented and revised for publication as a book.

Thanks are due to the Centre’s Administrator, Ludgard De Decker, for her careful preparation of the manuscript and to Cora Smith for the index. As always, it has been a pleasure to work with William Burrows and his staff at Orbis Books in the publishing of this volume.

Introduction

Is there life after? This is one of the fundamental questions that none of us escapes. As we grow old or suffer the loss of a loved one, this question commands our attention. Although much in life has changed over the centuries, when it comes to death and what happens after, we are little different than our ancestors. Although modern medicine keeps many of us alive longer, death inevitably holds sway. Then, like previous generations, we find ourselves face with that which we cannot scientifically control or understand.

The theologian Paul Tillich said that theology is correlational - that theology begins with the questions life asks and then searches scripture and tradition for answers. The vitality of any religion is indicated by its ability to provide satisfying answers to our deepest and most difficult questions.

Throughout history the great religions have provided answers to the question, is there life after death, and, if so, what is it like? The religions also have offered rituals to help embody these answers in daily life.

With separate chapters for Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Chinese religions, this book allows the reader to examine the differences and similarities in the way that these religions respond to the question, is there life after death? Each chapter beings by briefly sketching the basic beliefs of that religion before focusing on its views of death and life after death. This enables readers with no previous background in the religion to understand the answer to the question in the larger context of that tradition. The chapters also include discussion of different answers offered within each religion and critical problems that may remain unresolved. Each religion is presented by a leading scholar of that tradition. The authors have endeavored to write in ways that do not oversimplify the difficult concepts involved and yet make them accessible to the beginning student of religion or the serious lay reader.

Within each of these religions there are many different doctrines and rituals relating to life after death. A comprehensive treatment would require a separate book for each religion. Without attempting to be exhaustive, each author presents a balanced overview of the answer to the question, is there life after death? There are many religions not included (e.g., Sikhism, Jainism, Shintoism, and the Aboriginal traditions), all of which have important ideas and rituals relating to life after death. In a small introductory book one has to make choices, and in this case it was decided to focus on the larger world religions. A future volume is planned in which the traditions omitted in this volume will be highlighted.

Back of the Book

Is there life after death? If so, what is it like? How does it relate to life in this world? These questions are staples of the human effort to discern whether transcendent meaning or absurdity rules the cosmos. Life after Death in World Religions retrieves the classic responses of Buddhism, Chinese religions, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism and presents them with clarity and authority.

The contributors to Life after Death in World Religions are Eliezer Segal (Judaism), Terence Penelhum (Christianity), Hanna Kassis (Islam), Anantanand Rambachan (Hinduism), Eva K. Neumaier-Dargyay (Buddhism), and Gary Arbuckle (Chinese Religions). Representatives of or experts on their traditions, each of them conveys the flavor of a given tradition as a whole. But more importantly, they provide insights into the concrete rituals, practices, and emotions surrounding death and the particular forms of hope regarding the afterlife that characterize each tradition.

“An engaging work which brings the wisdom of religious traditions to bear on a traumatic event. The chapters give a comparative perspective to the reader seeking to understand death.”

-Mary MacDonald, Le Moyne College

“Strikes at a chordal perspective narrating the complex richness of reflection, action, and meaning evident in responses to death in various religious traditions. Readers should be particularly interested in the attention given to the textual resources and ritual celebrations which guide religious participants.”

John Grim, Bucknell University

Editor HAROLD COWARD is professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary and Director of the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria. His previous books include Sacred Word and Sacred Text: Scripture in World Religions and Hindu-Christian Dialogue: Perspectives and Encounters.

Preface vii
Introduction 1
The Western Religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam 2
The Eastern Religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Chinese Traditions 4
1 JUDAISM 1
Eliezer Segal
The First Commonwealth (until ca. 539 B.C.E.) 13
Babylonian Exile and Second Commonwealth (539 B.C.E. to 70 C.E) 16
Talmudic Perspectives (70 to ca. 700 C.E.) 20
Medieval Judaism (ca. 700 to ca. 1750 C.E.) 23
Modern Judaism (from ca. 1750)26
2 CHRISTIANITY 31
Terence Penelhum
Christian Origins 31
The Core Christian Claims about the Afterlife 37
Philosophical Difficulties in the Christian View 44
3 ISLAM 48
Hanna Kassis
“Only He Remains”” 48
“Here I AM Lord”: Preparation and Burial of the Dead 52
“Tasting the Nearer Chastisement”: Judgment in the Tomb54
“When Shall Be the Day of Resurrections?”55
“Unto the Path of Hell” 60
“Enter Thou My Paradise”61
4 HINDUISM 66
Anantanand Rambachan
Central Features of Hinduism 68
Hindu Views of the Person 71
Hindu View of Death and Afterlife 74
5 BUDDHISM 87
Eva K. Neumaier-Dargyay
Many Lives - Many Death: The Basic Assumptions 87
Dying and Being Reborn in the View of the Traditions 91
The Tibetan Lore of Dying and Rebirth 93
The Bar do thos grol 95
The “Liberation from the Intermediary State” and Reports of Near-Death Experiences 102
6 CHINESE RELIGIONS 105
Gary Arbuckle
Notes from the Nether World 105
Cosmological Contexts and the Theory of the Soul 106
Going to One’s Reward 109
Prison Breaks: Philosophy, Alchemy, Escape, Endurance 113
The Afterlife in “After-Times” 117
ABOUT THE AUTHORS 125
Index 129
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Preface

The chapters in this book evolved from lectures given in the annual Distinguished Speakers Series organized by the Centre for Speakers Series organized by the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society and co-sponsored by the University of Victoria’s Division of Continuing Studies.

The Centre for Studies in Religion and Society was established at the University of Victoria in 1991 to foster the scholarly study of religion in relation to the sciences, ethics, social and economic development, and other aspects of culture. The primary aim is to promote dialogue between religion and these other aspects of human experience. The Centre has a fundamental commitment to pluralism and pursues a broad range of research interests not limited to any specific time, place, religion, or culture. It embodies the understanding that religious traditions have been formative of human reality and experience, and that the speeches are the proper object of creative, rigorous inquiry, whether from a disciplinary or an interdisciplinary perspective.

Each year the Centre invites distinguished scholars from various religions to speak on a common theme from the perspective of their own traditions. The 1995 Distinguished Speakers Series on Life After Death evoked such strong and positive audience response that the speeches were augmented and revised for publication as a book.

Thanks are due to the Centre’s Administrator, Ludgard De Decker, for her careful preparation of the manuscript and to Cora Smith for the index. As always, it has been a pleasure to work with William Burrows and his staff at Orbis Books in the publishing of this volume.

Introduction

Is there life after? This is one of the fundamental questions that none of us escapes. As we grow old or suffer the loss of a loved one, this question commands our attention. Although much in life has changed over the centuries, when it comes to death and what happens after, we are little different than our ancestors. Although modern medicine keeps many of us alive longer, death inevitably holds sway. Then, like previous generations, we find ourselves face with that which we cannot scientifically control or understand.

The theologian Paul Tillich said that theology is correlational - that theology begins with the questions life asks and then searches scripture and tradition for answers. The vitality of any religion is indicated by its ability to provide satisfying answers to our deepest and most difficult questions.

Throughout history the great religions have provided answers to the question, is there life after death, and, if so, what is it like? The religions also have offered rituals to help embody these answers in daily life.

With separate chapters for Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Chinese religions, this book allows the reader to examine the differences and similarities in the way that these religions respond to the question, is there life after death? Each chapter beings by briefly sketching the basic beliefs of that religion before focusing on its views of death and life after death. This enables readers with no previous background in the religion to understand the answer to the question in the larger context of that tradition. The chapters also include discussion of different answers offered within each religion and critical problems that may remain unresolved. Each religion is presented by a leading scholar of that tradition. The authors have endeavored to write in ways that do not oversimplify the difficult concepts involved and yet make them accessible to the beginning student of religion or the serious lay reader.

Within each of these religions there are many different doctrines and rituals relating to life after death. A comprehensive treatment would require a separate book for each religion. Without attempting to be exhaustive, each author presents a balanced overview of the answer to the question, is there life after death? There are many religions not included (e.g., Sikhism, Jainism, Shintoism, and the Aboriginal traditions), all of which have important ideas and rituals relating to life after death. In a small introductory book one has to make choices, and in this case it was decided to focus on the larger world religions. A future volume is planned in which the traditions omitted in this volume will be highlighted.

Back of the Book

Is there life after death? If so, what is it like? How does it relate to life in this world? These questions are staples of the human effort to discern whether transcendent meaning or absurdity rules the cosmos. Life after Death in World Religions retrieves the classic responses of Buddhism, Chinese religions, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism and presents them with clarity and authority.

The contributors to Life after Death in World Religions are Eliezer Segal (Judaism), Terence Penelhum (Christianity), Hanna Kassis (Islam), Anantanand Rambachan (Hinduism), Eva K. Neumaier-Dargyay (Buddhism), and Gary Arbuckle (Chinese Religions). Representatives of or experts on their traditions, each of them conveys the flavor of a given tradition as a whole. But more importantly, they provide insights into the concrete rituals, practices, and emotions surrounding death and the particular forms of hope regarding the afterlife that characterize each tradition.

“An engaging work which brings the wisdom of religious traditions to bear on a traumatic event. The chapters give a comparative perspective to the reader seeking to understand death.”

-Mary MacDonald, Le Moyne College

“Strikes at a chordal perspective narrating the complex richness of reflection, action, and meaning evident in responses to death in various religious traditions. Readers should be particularly interested in the attention given to the textual resources and ritual celebrations which guide religious participants.”

John Grim, Bucknell University

Editor HAROLD COWARD is professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary and Director of the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria. His previous books include Sacred Word and Sacred Text: Scripture in World Religions and Hindu-Christian Dialogue: Perspectives and Encounters.

Preface vii
Introduction 1
The Western Religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam 2
The Eastern Religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Chinese Traditions 4
1 JUDAISM 1
Eliezer Segal
The First Commonwealth (until ca. 539 B.C.E.) 13
Babylonian Exile and Second Commonwealth (539 B.C.E. to 70 C.E) 16
Talmudic Perspectives (70 to ca. 700 C.E.) 20
Medieval Judaism (ca. 700 to ca. 1750 C.E.) 23
Modern Judaism (from ca. 1750)26
2 CHRISTIANITY 31
Terence Penelhum
Christian Origins 31
The Core Christian Claims about the Afterlife 37
Philosophical Difficulties in the Christian View 44
3 ISLAM 48
Hanna Kassis
“Only He Remains”” 48
“Here I AM Lord”: Preparation and Burial of the Dead 52
“Tasting the Nearer Chastisement”: Judgment in the Tomb54
“When Shall Be the Day of Resurrections?”55
“Unto the Path of Hell” 60
“Enter Thou My Paradise”61
4 HINDUISM 66
Anantanand Rambachan
Central Features of Hinduism 68
Hindu Views of the Person 71
Hindu View of Death and Afterlife 74
5 BUDDHISM 87
Eva K. Neumaier-Dargyay
Many Lives - Many Death: The Basic Assumptions 87
Dying and Being Reborn in the View of the Traditions 91
The Tibetan Lore of Dying and Rebirth 93
The Bar do thos grol 95
The “Liberation from the Intermediary State” and Reports of Near-Death Experiences 102
6 CHINESE RELIGIONS 105
Gary Arbuckle
Notes from the Nether World 105
Cosmological Contexts and the Theory of the Soul 106
Going to One’s Reward 109
Prison Breaks: Philosophy, Alchemy, Escape, Endurance 113
The Afterlife in “After-Times” 117
ABOUT THE AUTHORS 125
Index 129
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