A2 Religious Studies - Life After Death

Covering the soul, types of life after death, philosophical challenges and evaluation.


The Soul

1. Plato - Dualism. Body and soul are separate. The soul is the charioteer of the mind and body. It is part of a cycle - Death comes from life, so life comes from death.
2. Aristotle - Essential nature of a thing, cannot be separated from the body. Like the imprint on a seal can't be separated from the wax. Only alive as long as the body is.
3. Materialism - No such thing as a soul, we are purely made of matter. Dawkins' view that we leave behind only genes and memes (replication of our culture).

If the soul were to live on after death, life after death could be:-
a) Reincarnation
b) A bodily resurrection
c) The disembodied existence of the soul

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Arguments For Life After Death

St Paul - Because of Jesus' bodily resurrection, we can be sure of our own.

Brown - An afterlife is logical if you believe in a good and loving God.

Aquinas - The human appitite for an afterlife cannot be in vain.

Hick - Near death experiences, Out of body experiences, mediums, psychics, ESP - all evidence of a spiritual side to us.

Kant - There must be an afterlife to satisfy our sense of justice and sense that we should strive for the summum bonum (highest good).

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Philosophical Challenges To Life After Death

1. How could bodies be resurrected when they've been cremated or decayed?

2. What continuity could there be between the individual of this life and the individual of the next?

3. How can life after death be a meaningful concept when it is not verifiable (Ayer) and when like and death are mutually exclusive terms (Flew)?

4. If we are disembodied, how would be recognise other people?

5. Can we accept memory as evidence of past lives, or as a means of continuity between lives, when memory is fallible?

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The idea that the soul is reborn in to another body after death.

Each person has an atman, an essential self. It is seeking unity with God.
When this is achieved, the rebirth cycle ends. The process of rebirth is controlled by the law of karma.

Doctrine of anatta - soullessness. Any sense of atman is an illusion. But still believe in a form of reincarnation and karma.
Analogy of a candle lighting another candle. The flames are neither the same nor different. Analogy of the connection between the mangoes planted and those which grow on the new plant.

Evidence for reincarnation in Stevenson's studies of 20 children with reincarnation memories.

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Bodily resurrection

Not much devloped teaching. Daniel 12:2 refers to resurrection, this is probably later teaching. By Jesus time, there was argument between Pharisees (who did believe in a bodily resurrection) and Saduccees (who didn't believe in resurrection).

Life after death (al-akhirah) is essential belief. Earthly life is only preparation for next life. All will be judged by Allah, beginning with Mohammed (PBUH) and go to Heaven or Hell.

Jesus resurrection is evidence of ours. Resurrected Jesus was physical, but not identical to before. Judgement to Heaven or Hell, depending on response to Jesus.

Problems with the idea of Heaven and Hell:

Williams - Heaven would get boring through eternity. Infinite time could not be pleasurable.
Hume - Finite sins can never deserve infinite punishment.

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Disembodied Soul

H.H. Price argued that a soul without a body could be a coherent concept.

  • He used comparison to a dream world, made up of mental images, rather than physical time and space. It can be called real because it seems real.
  • It would be in a different kind of consciousness rather than in an actual location.
  • The images would be drawn from memories and desire.


  • It doesn't account for people without cognitive ability, or babies who die having had no memories.
  • It is very individualistic, as people in a dream cannot have contact with others, or God.
  • Encourages people to live selfish lives, gaining as much pleasure as possible and avoiding bad things so as to have the happiest possible afterlife.
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