From Publishers Weekly
The author of The Devil: A Biography and Catholics and Sex explores the idea of the afterworld, considering in this thoroughly researched book how the search for life after death is connected with the desire to fully live. Drawing upon a plethora of literary and historical sources, Stanford engagingly explores how a variety of religions-including Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism-have imagined and described heaven. And he considers the viewpoints of a bevy of artists, writers, psychologists and philosophers as well-among them Signorelli, Dante, Poe, Freud, Jung, Plato and Kant. He takes readers through the gates of heaven at the Orvieto Cathedral in Tuscany to view the Renaissance's "radical new take on heaven" as revealed in Signorelli's masterful fresco in the Cappella di San Brizio. He also describes visiting Chartres, where he reminds readers that the gorgeous stained glass windows depicting Christ's life had a purpose beyond beauty-they educated a largely illiterate population. These historical tours open up the subject of heaven with delightful detail and imagery, making an otherworldly topic (Pope John Paul II called heaven "a blessed community" that was "neither abstraction nor physical space") tangible and accessible. Standford's inclusion of five short "Traveler's Tales," which recount the near-death experiences of living and historical figures, may be another method for making the ethereal more concrete. Rich in history and testimony, this thoughtful tome is a worthy study for anyone who has a curiosity in life beyond death.
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*Starred Review* Heaven cannot wait for one British broadcaster and Catholic gadfly. Rather, the afterlife looms as an immediate challenge for Stanford, who warns that a modern society that cannot think seriously about immortality in the next world is fast losing its ability to think soberly about death in this one. To renew a metaphysical inquiry that he fears is disappearing even in the churches, Stanford weaves intensely personal reflections on the great human riddle into wide-ranging scholarly research into the otherworldly visions of prophets, poets, and philosophers. The Buddhist doctrines of reincarnation receive attention, as do Muslim teachings about djanna, but Stanford focuses chiefly on Christian conceptions of the afterlife and their Jewish antecedents. Surprisingly fluid, these conceptions have shifted over the centuries: Christians who have listened to mystics rhapsodizing over the soul's unspeakably celestial union with God have often listened just as attentively to visionaries promising the eternal preservation of this world's delights and social ties. Probing the theological tensions separating these conceptions and the psychological impulses of their evangelists, Stanford delves deep into the writings of intrepid travelers--including St. Paul, Dante, and William Blake--reporting ecstatic journeys to the very boundaries of the divine realm. At a time when clerics have lapsed into silence on a topic still charged with intense interest, this book will attract a large and appreciative readership. Bryce Christensen
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