Bible Review 21:3, Summer 2005

Bible Books

Life After Death
A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion

Alan F. Segal (New York: Doubleday, 2004) 866 pp., $37.50 (hardcover)

The grand narrative of universal human experience unfolds with an eye toward that mysterious veil through which we all must pass. Cultures that experience time as recurring describe the interplay between life and death as a kind of eclipse in which certain aspects of reality are temporarily hidden. For cultures that sense time as something forward-moving and linear, the veil looms ahead like the curtained entrance to a mysterious carnival ride. But for both, the degree to which the veil is viewed as heavy or opaque—and the place beyond as terrible or beautiful—arises at the level of society, as one community interacts with others, and generates for itself a unique vision of the afterlife that in turn reflects and reinforces its self-identity. It is this social process, and the myriad projections of the afterlife that it has produced, that Professor Alan F. Segal effectively captures in Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion.

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