Understanding Death An Introduction to Ideas of Self and the Afterlife in World Religions

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2013-09-10
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
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A comprehensive survey of how religions understand death, dying, and the afterlife, drawing on examples from Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Shamanic perspectives. 

  • Considers shared and differing views of death across the world’s major religions, including on the nature of death itself, the reasons for it, the identity of those who die, religious rituals, and on how the living should respond to death
  • Places emphasis on the varying concepts of the ‘self’ or soul
  • Uses a thematic structure to facilitate a broader comparative understanding
  • Written in an accessible style to appeal to an undergraduate audience, it fills major gap in current textbook literature

Author Biography

Angela Sumegi is Assistant Professor of Religion at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. She is the author of Dream Worlds of Shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism (2008). Outside academia, she teaches Buddhist meditation and is the founder and director of a Canadian charity that supports Tibetan refugee children in India.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

1 Understanding Death 1

Return from the Dead 4

Debates and Definitions 9

Death and the Self 14

Ritual and Transformation 19

Notes 22

References and Further Reading 22

2 Primal Perspectives on Death 25

Soul Theories of Primal Peoples 28

The Destiny of Souls 34

Afterlife among theWarao 35

Rituals of Departure 40

A Conversation on Understanding Death 44

References and Further Reading 46

3 Death in the Ancient World 49

Egypt 51

Egyptian Soul Theory 52

Transforming the Body 54

Egyptian Afterlife 56

The Story of Osiris 58

Mesopotamia 61

Gilgamesh and the Search for Immortality 63

The Spirits of the Dead in Mesopotamian Culture 64

Persia 66

Zoroaster and the Evil of Death 67

Salvation for All 68

Notes 71

References and Further Reading 71

4 Jewish Perspectives on Death 73

The Beginning of Death 78

The Soul and Sheol 80

Resurrection and the World to Come 86

The Journey of the Soul 91

Rituals of Departure 97

A Conversation on Understanding Death 101

Notes 103

References and Further Reading 104

5 Christian Perspectives on Death 105

The Death of Jesus 107

Developments in Christian Thought on the Soul 111

Resurrection and Eternal Life 114

Heaven and Hell 119

Rituals of Departure 128

A Conversation on Understanding Death 131

Notes 133

References and Further Reading 133

6 Muslim Perspectives on Death 135

The Names of God 140

Ruh and Nafs 143

The Trial of the Grave 146

The Garden (Janna) and the Fire (Jahannam) 150

Modern Islamic Views on Heaven and Hell 154

Rituals of Departure 156

A Conversation on Understanding Death 159

Notes 161

References and Further Reading 162

7 Hindu Perspectives on Death 165

Feeding the Ancestors 166

The First Sacrifice 168

Death, the Immortal 173

The Inner Controller 174

In the House of Death 180

The Three Paths to Liberation 182

Rituals of Departure 187

A Conversation on Understanding Death 192

Notes 194

References and Further Reading 195

8 Buddhist Perspectives on Death 197

The Life and Death of the Buddha 198

The Noble Truths 201

Karma, Self, and the Wheel of Becoming 204

Nirvana: The Deathless 211

Rituals of Departure 214

A Conversation on Understanding Death 225

Notes 227

References and Further Reading 228

9 Daoist Perspectives on Death 229

The Ancestors 230

Soul Theories 235

The NamelessWay 237

Transformations of the Self 239

The Search for Immortality 242

Rituals of Departure 245

A Conversation on Understanding Death 250

Notes 252

References and Further Reading 253

Index 255

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