Conceptions of the Afterlife – PHI 532


What happens when you die? Scholars and theologians throughout history have sought the answer to this question. This course will explore the afterlife as described by the major religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism), the Greek philosophers and religionists, the Eleusinian and Orphic Mystery schools, and the teachings of spiritualism and Theosophy.

Questions about heaven, hell, and purgatory will be addressed; as will some phenomena associated with the afterlife, such as reincarnation, resurrection, the survival of the disembodied soul, and intermediate post-mortem states as described by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and folklore surrounding vampires and zombies. The possible communication with the dead as detailed in spiritualism will be contrasted with the more scientific method of “cross-correspondence” as an advance in establishing the possibility of life after death.



This course is divided into ten, one-hour sessions. The introductory session, Personal Immortality and Post-Mortem Survival, is presented in both audio and video format to better acquaint the student with the instructor.

Session 1 | Personal Immortality and Post-Mortem Survival
Introduction to beliefs, trends, and evidence of life after death

Session 2 | Concepts and Definitions
From rebirth to xenoglossy to near-death experiences and

Session 3 | The Soul
Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, William of Auvergne, the Upanishads

Session 4 | Conceptions of the Afterlife in the Jewish Tradition
Book of Daniel; the Pharisees

Session 5 | Conceptions of the Afterlife in the Christian Tradition
Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, resurrection, martyrdom

Session 6 | Conceptions of the Afterlife in the Islamic Tradition
The Martyr (shahid); Fana’ (“annihilation”); Islamism

Session 7 | Conceptions of the Afterlife in the Hindu Tradition
Karma and reincarnation

Session 8 | Conceptions of the Afterlife in the Buddhist Tradition
Karma, rebirth, and afterdeath states

Session 9 | Emanuel Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell

Session 10 | Spiritualism and Theosophy
Spirits, the Spirit World, the Ministry of Spirits; the Septenary
Person, the Monad, Devachan, Karma



Outcome 1: Students will become acquainted with the attitudes of the afterlife in five world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism), Theosophy (as a comparative, syncretic movement), and Spiritualism (represent-ing a major movement in the 19th century United States).

Outcome 2: Students will become acquainted with the overriding similarities in those religions which might be termed “postaxial.” For these religions, the agreement is the assumption and promise of a liberation from a less satisfactory life
to an “existence” that offers bliss, either in the literal or allegorical sense.

Outcome 3: Students will become acquainted with the fundamental differences between certain postaxial religions regarding the afterlife. One important difference is the issue over the continuation of individuality, however interpreted,
either in the body or through the soul.

Outcome 4: Students will be aware of the naturally problematic issue of resurrection, its variations in interpretations,
its implications, its anti-intuitive nature, and the difficulty in fitting the teaching into the natural scheme of things.

Outcome 5:
 Students will be aware of the more palatable teaching of reincarnation in its many senses and the case that can be made of the possibility that some form of reincarnation is entirely possible.

Outcome 6: Students will be aware of the powerful and persuasive teaching of martyrdom in both Islam and Christianity and its centrality in both religions.

Outcome 7: Students will be able to recognize how the quality of the afterlife (heaven[s], hell[s], limbo, purgatory) is measured by the ethical dimension.

Outcome 8: Students will be able to recognize the causal relation of the present life with the afterlife. This includes the issue of karma—and whether this concept was originally associated with reincarnation, or whether it is a scholarly and
academic construct and interpretation that the two were originally related.

Outcome 9: Students will become aware of and evaluate in a critical manner the scientific proofs of the afterlife such as those surrounding the near-death experience and sophisticated arguments of the possibility from Oliver Lodge, F.W.
Meyers, Raymond Moody, and Russell Stannard.

Outcome 10: 
Students will become aware that the teachings about the afterlife and of religion present interesting possibilities that religion and science are not necessarily in disagreement.

Outcome 11:
 Students will become aware of the semantic range between living and dead is challenged by some of the beliefs of communities regarding what is living and dead.



James Santucci, Ph.D. - (Asian Civilizations, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia). Chair & Professor of Comparative Religion at California State University, Fullerton. Author of over 45 articles and five books, including:
An Outline of Vedic Literature; La società teosofica; and An Educator’s Classroom Guide to America’s Religious Beliefs and Practices.