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A work of social history, Life After Death illuminates different ways ancient civilizations grappled with the question of what exactly happens to the dead. Segal weaves together biblical & literary scholarship, sociology, history & philosophy. A scholar, he examines the maps of the afterlife found in Western religious texts & reveals not only what various cultures believed A work of social history, Life After Death illuminates different ways ancient civilizations grappled with the question of what exactly happens to the dead. Segal weaves together biblical & literary scholarship, sociology, history & philosophy. A scholar, he examines the maps of the afterlife found in Western religious texts & reveals not only what various cultures believed but how their notions reflected their societies' realities & ideals, & why those beliefs changed over time. He maintains that the afterlife is the mirror in which a society arranges its concept of the self. The composition process for Judaism, Xianity & Islam begins in grief & ends in the victory of the self over death. Arguing that in all religious traditions the afterlife represents the ultimate reward for the good, he combines historical & anthropological data with insights gleaned from religious & philosophical writings to explain the following mysteries: why Egyptians insisted on a heavenly afterlife, while the body was embalmed in a tomb; why Babylonians viewed the dead as living in underground prisons; why Hebrews remained silent about life after death during the 1st Temple period, yet embraced it in the 2nd Temple period (534 BCE-70 CE); & why Xianity placed the afterlife in the center of its belief system. He discusses the inner dialogs & arguments within Judaism & Xianity, showing the underlying dynamic behind them, as well as the ideas marking the differences between the two. In an examination of the influence of biblical views of heaven & martyrdom on Islamic beliefs, he offers a perspective on the current rise of Islamic fundamentalism. In tracing the organic, historical relationships between sacred texts & communities of belief & comparing the visions of life after death that have emerged historically, he sheds light on the intimate connections between afterlife notions, the societies that produced them & the search for life's meaning.


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A work of social history, Life After Death illuminates different ways ancient civilizations grappled with the question of what exactly happens to the dead. Segal weaves together biblical & literary scholarship, sociology, history & philosophy. A scholar, he examines the maps of the afterlife found in Western religious texts & reveals not only what various cultures believed A work of social history, Life After Death illuminates different ways ancient civilizations grappled with the question of what exactly happens to the dead. Segal weaves together biblical & literary scholarship, sociology, history & philosophy. A scholar, he examines the maps of the afterlife found in Western religious texts & reveals not only what various cultures believed but how their notions reflected their societies' realities & ideals, & why those beliefs changed over time. He maintains that the afterlife is the mirror in which a society arranges its concept of the self. The composition process for Judaism, Xianity & Islam begins in grief & ends in the victory of the self over death. Arguing that in all religious traditions the afterlife represents the ultimate reward for the good, he combines historical & anthropological data with insights gleaned from religious & philosophical writings to explain the following mysteries: why Egyptians insisted on a heavenly afterlife, while the body was embalmed in a tomb; why Babylonians viewed the dead as living in underground prisons; why Hebrews remained silent about life after death during the 1st Temple period, yet embraced it in the 2nd Temple period (534 BCE-70 CE); & why Xianity placed the afterlife in the center of its belief system. He discusses the inner dialogs & arguments within Judaism & Xianity, showing the underlying dynamic behind them, as well as the ideas marking the differences between the two. In an examination of the influence of biblical views of heaven & martyrdom on Islamic beliefs, he offers a perspective on the current rise of Islamic fundamentalism. In tracing the organic, historical relationships between sacred texts & communities of belief & comparing the visions of life after death that have emerged historically, he sheds light on the intimate connections between afterlife notions, the societies that produced them & the search for life's meaning.

30 review for Life after Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion

  1. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    This may be the longest piece of shoddy "scholarship" I've ever read. Although well endnoted and occasionally showing glimmers of insight, the book seems a rushed job uncertain of its purpose. It is not a piece of disinterested scholarship. The introductory portion makes clear the author's opposition to modern belief in an afterlife and the concluding portion before the substantially redundant "Summary" digresses into an all-too-timebound--and rather ignorantly mainstream--discussion of 9/11. Th This may be the longest piece of shoddy "scholarship" I've ever read. Although well endnoted and occasionally showing glimmers of insight, the book seems a rushed job uncertain of its purpose. It is not a piece of disinterested scholarship. The introductory portion makes clear the author's opposition to modern belief in an afterlife and the concluding portion before the substantially redundant "Summary" digresses into an all-too-timebound--and rather ignorantly mainstream--discussion of 9/11. The midsection--reviewing Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Canaanite, Graeco-Roman, Hebrew, Persian, Christian and Islamic beliefs--seems the meat of the book, but the gristle of opinion at both ends distracts from it pose of objectivity. Furthermore, while occasional asides are made to thanatological research and to the phenomenology of supposed experiences of the afterlife, there is no real confrontation with the evidence. Indeed, the book ends with poetic pablum. Bored to tears by much of it, occasionally impressed by the rare flash of insight or some coverage of a religious tradition I've not yet much studied (Zoroastrianism and Rabbinic Judaism in particular), I only finished the thing because of the compulsion to not leave undone what has been begun and because the book was a birthday gift from a much respected friend (who certainly has not read the thing).

  2. 4 out of 5

    P

    The author is clearly erudite because the book covers much more than suggested by the title. The erudition makes his amateurish coverage of modern politics (the Soviet-Afghan War was in the 1980s, not the 1990s, trying to explain the sources of underdevelopment in the Arab world in a 2-page aside is foolish, and it's equally foolish to disagree with Scott Atran on an area of Atran's expertise solely based on what one "thinks") and obvious errors ("Istambul" was not the capital of the Ottoman Emp The author is clearly erudite because the book covers much more than suggested by the title. The erudition makes his amateurish coverage of modern politics (the Soviet-Afghan War was in the 1980s, not the 1990s, trying to explain the sources of underdevelopment in the Arab world in a 2-page aside is foolish, and it's equally foolish to disagree with Scott Atran on an area of Atran's expertise solely based on what one "thinks") and obvious errors ("Istambul" was not the capital of the Ottoman Empire and "Richard Dockins" did not invent meme theory) more frustrating than otherwise.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kady

    Super dry and dense...couldn't even finish it. Super dry and dense...couldn't even finish it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    B.J. Marshall

    As you'd expect given the title and subject matter, this book is a bit dense at times. With everything else that has been going on while I've been reading it, it's been a bit of a slog. It's a good book though and I think well worth the effort. As you'd expect given the title and subject matter, this book is a bit dense at times. With everything else that has been going on while I've been reading it, it's been a bit of a slog. It's a good book though and I think well worth the effort.

  5. 4 out of 5

    David

    Confronting the history of the ‘afterlife’ in the ‘Western’ tradition, Alan Segal’s Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Western Religion is a fascinating post-9/11 social history. In many cases it reads like a great books humanities course with a religious theme. This isn’t to denigrate the book, but, rather, to place it within an intellectual and historical frame. Contextualizing books such as Life After Death is crucial to judging whether or not they are worthy of readers’ atte Confronting the history of the ‘afterlife’ in the ‘Western’ tradition, Alan Segal’s Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Western Religion is a fascinating post-9/11 social history. In many cases it reads like a great books humanities course with a religious theme. This isn’t to denigrate the book, but, rather, to place it within an intellectual and historical frame. Contextualizing books such as Life After Death is crucial to judging whether or not they are worthy of readers’ attention. In this case, Mr. Segal’s book will be very useful for those who can read religion as a socio-historical phenomenon and not at all useful for those coming from a position of faith—or very nearly useless for the latter. Certainly, there are some that will be able to separate their faith from the rational and critical [not in the sense of being negative] interrogation of religion from its early manifestations in Mesopotamia and Egypt to that of the Post-Industrial world. Ultimately, it is a good book with many fine features, but it is one that will appeal to secularists and sceptics rather than those with some sense of the transcendent purpose of life. Mr. Segal’s book is often bleak and definitely antiseptic in its approach to its topic, but it is also informative and well documented. What comes out of reading this book is a sense of its milieu, post 9/11, and its rational scepticism. This is not to say Life After Death is an anti-religious work, but that it has a definite perspective and this perspective is not one most of a religious persuasion are going to be able to wholeheartedly embrace. Still and all, Life After Death is an excellent and comprehensive, though by no means complete, history of the evolution, within religion, of its response to death and the significance of this event for the individual, the group, the culture, and the civilization in which all, more or less, exist and attempt to cohabit with one another…more or less successfully. At the moment of writing, early 2015, it feels as though humans are managing to do this less successfully than they have in the past. However, the effort is being made and that, at the very least, is worth something. An excellent introduction to the history of the concept of life after death in the religious traditions of the West and Near/Middle East from the earliest civilizations to the early 21st Century. Recommended for those interested in a secularist reading of Western religious history as it intersects with death and post-human existence. Rating 4 out of 5 stars.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Another addition to the religious studies section of my library. As a non believer, I find meticulous texts detailing the rise and metamorphosis of religious thought fascinating. I would recommend this to serious readers as it took me 3 weeks of solid dedication to work through the text.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Poung

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emrys

  10. 4 out of 5

    Maciej Jurowczyk

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sergio Navarro

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alex Thompson

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jared

  14. 5 out of 5

    Paul Tubb

  15. 5 out of 5

    Outis

  16. 5 out of 5

    James

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marian

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brandi Jaquez

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tanja Walker

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  21. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marnie

  23. 4 out of 5

    Renee

  24. 5 out of 5

    Liberty Bell

  25. 5 out of 5

    Warren Cann

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Barnhart

  27. 5 out of 5

    Justin Swanstrom

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy Doyle

  29. 4 out of 5

    munmun saha

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joe

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