Scribner Seminar Course Description
Afterlives: Cultural Constructions of Life After Death
Instructor(s): Regina Janes, English
What happens to the soul—the breath—that goes away when the body dies? Where does consciousness go? What happens to it? Since no one knows, everyone has imagined. Neurophysiology tells us about near- death experiences, and the process by which the brain shuts down, but what then, and why do we care? Western views of the afterlife have shifted and multiplied, from dismal undergrounds, transmigrating souls, nothingness or endless sleep, blissful heavens, horrible hells, to playful inventions. Students will look at classical and biblical texts, visual representations in medieval Christianity and medieval Buddhism—some heavens but mostly hells—and twentieth- and twenty-first century fiction and film to see what they tell us about our own beliefs, hopes, fears and values. Do we need concepts of an afterlife to behave morally? What does the proliferation of make-your- own afterlives in current popular cultural tell us about ourselves?