HEAVEN: A HISTORY by Colleen & Bernhard Lang McDannell


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Beginning with the origins of the idea of heaven in early Judaism and concluding with contemporary concepts, McDannell (History & Religion/Univ. of Maryland) and Lang (Religion/Univ. of Paderborn) have compiled an impressive social and cultural history of the diverse images used by Christian theologians, philosophers, visionaries, and artists to describe the fate of the soul. The authors treat their fascinating subject with respect, noting that all these images, in one way or another, reflect the human longing to ""move beyond this life and experience more fully the divine."" While its scholarship is evident, this history of heaven is primarily celebratory and democratic. Though we hear from erudite theologians and philosophers from Augustine and Aquinas to Kant and Tillich, ""outsiders"" such as Swedenborg, Rossetti, and Hal Lindsey are also given a hearing. Through the centuries, the ""beliefs"" of the intellectual classes are contrasted with the ""superstitions"" of the common man. Diverse and contradictory images of heaven are shown to both mirror the Zeitgeist and to influence individual aspiration. From the ascetic ideal of eternal communion with the divine to the sensual and pastoral paradise of human love and reunion, the authors track a constantly changing ideal. The latest heaven is ""minimalist,"" reducing what was once considered the eternal human essence to a ""perishing event""--reflecting our own skeptical and technocratic era. Over 60 illustrations from medieval illuminated manuscripts to contemporary comic strips document the major images used to describe the heavenly realm. McConnell and Lang bring order, analysis, and structure to a complex set of symbols and beliefs--in an engrossing and sympathetic study of the next world that offers rewarding insights into our struggle to understand the human place in this one.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1988
ISBN: 0300091079
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press