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In these graceful meditations, Zaleski, a professor of religion at Smith College, searches for the affinities between narratives of near-death experiences (NDEs) and the traditional Christian doctrines of hope and the afterlife. Delivered originally as lectures during the Octave of Easter, Zaleski's reflections are ordered according to the three great hours (Lauds, Vespers, Compline) of the Divine Office. The meditation on Lauds, or morning prayer, thus explores the ways that NDEs may be understood as awakenings to the reality of death, while the meditation on Vespers, or evening prayer, reflects upon the NDE as an experience on the threshold of death. Weaving a rich tapestry of images of the afterlife from the writings of the early Church fathers and from New Age accounts of NDEs, Zaleski concludes that traditional Christian images of the afterlife may be greatly enriched by an encounter with the images of afterlife offered in NDE accounts. Because Zaleski's meditations possess that rare combination of intellectual gravity and lyrical playfulness, they are certain to appeal to a wide range of readers. Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Zaleski is a well-known scholar of near-death experiences, and there is much interest in such experiences in both popular and scholarly circles, so this meditative little book is likely to have a substantial audience. It is an expanded version of three lectures presented in 1993 at the University of St. Mary of the Lake^-Mundelein Seminary. Zaleski delivered the lectures during the Easter season and noted a division between Western and Eastern Christianity that marked the time as a simultaneous reminder of death and resurrection. She conceived the lectures as a set of meditations on the hours of Lauds, Vespers, and Compline in the Divine Office, "which traces the mystery of death and resurrection through the course of a single day." Many readers will find the liturgical structure an aid to meditation; many more will find comfort in Zaleski's emphatic yes to the question of whether Christians are morally entitled to believe in life after death. The real theme of the book is hope, and that is a theme in great demand. Steve Schroeder
Carol Zaleski is the Professor of World Religions at Smith College and a columnist for The Christian Century. She grew up in New York City, where she learned to love bialys and pickles. She lives with her family in Massachusetts and writes (often in collaboration with her husband Philip Zaleski) on matters of faith and culture, and on visions of heaven, hell and purgatory. Her most recent book is The Fellowship, a biography of the Inklings, co-authored with Philip Zaleski; excerpts are available here: http://chronicle.com/article/Oxfords-Influential-Inklings/229967?cid=megamenu and here: http://us.macmillan.com/excerpt?isbn=9780374154097
A few snippets from reviews:
THE FELLOWSHIP: THE LITERARY LIVES OF THE INKLINGS--J.R.R. TOLKIEN, C. S. LEWIS, OWEN BARFIELD, CHARLES WILLIAMS
A gutsy, glorious adoration of the English fantasy and faerie traditions, which celebrates what sometimes seems like a fantastical time when religion didn't destroy art but created it. (Joshua Cohen, Harper's Magazine)
The husband-and-wife team of Philip and Carol Zaleski bring to bear both extensive scholarship and a neatly interwoven narrative; this is a story about storytellers, and it shows . . . (Genevieve Valentine, The New York Times Book Review)
A fascinating overview of this 'intellectual orchestra' . . . a captivating story of young writers finding their literary footing while trying to rectify competing desires for happiness, love, fame, and faith. (Ethan Gilsdorf The Boston Globe)
OTHERWORLD JOURNEYS: ACCOUNTS OF NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE IN MEDIEVAL AND MODERN TIMES
"the first historical perspective on the subject . . . a brilliant, historically rich, commonsensical book." -- Jonathan Cott, Vogue
"Ms. Zaleski has written a sophisticated post-modern, hence nonphilosophical, book about that timeless philosophical problem. . . ." -- Richard A. Shweder, The New York Times Book Review
"a classic in the study of religious experience and popular religion." -- The Journal of Religion
THE BOOK OF HEAVEN
"Everything Philip and Carol Zaleski touch turns to gold. Scholarly, witty and wise, they know the field well and have keen eyes for what's interesting." -- Annie Dillard
"The Zaleskis are cheerfully learned. Distinctly pro-heaven themselves, they wish everybody else were . . ." -- Frank Kermode, "Heaven, They're in Heaven," The New York Times Book Review
PRAYER: A HISTORY
"A lovely, interesting new book . . . Philip and Carol Zaleski explore this most personal of religious practices in an ecumenical spirit." -- Jon Meacham, The New York Times Book Review
"Thought-provoking and soul-uplifting . . . There's an engaging ease to the Zaleskis' prose, and humor pops through regularly." -- Los Angeles Times
"This is the most stunning book on prayer that I have ever read. It will become the benchmark for every other work on the subject, present or future." -- Phyllis Tickle
She wrote in the Preface to this 1997 book, "[This book] is an expanded version of three lectures I gave [in] 1993... at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary." (Pg. vii) She adds in the first chapter, "This book is a meditation upon last things: the encounter with death, the hope for life beyond death, and the vision of the world to come, as distilled in the classical Christian tradition and recent testimony of near-death experience... I will defend the right to imagine a state of blessedness after death." (Pg. 3)
She says, "At the risk of sounding cryptic, I would like to suggest that near-death experience is at once imaginative and real. It is a real experience mediated by the religious imagination. It is an imaginative encounter with death and a symbolic crossing of the threshold of death. Across that threshold lies the other world, which for our present purposes can be understood as the realm of the imagination, a realm in which the ideas that animate this life are encountered in their fullest, most embodied form." (Pg. 20-21)
She observes, "Only with the decline of belief in hell has the search for proofs of life after death become such an attractive pastime. John Henry Newman, in contrast, took it for granted that any successful philosophical argument for immortality would automatically bring with it overpowering fear and trembling, and desire to repent." (Pg.Read more ›
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Once again, but in a slim volume of three lectures placed within the multi-faceted Catholic symbolism of the Hours of Lauds, Vespers, and Compline, and presented in the author's characteristic academic style, we have the opportunity to examine the same theme and argument that Professor Zaleski offered so fulsomely in her book about Near-Death Experiences entitled Otherworld Journeys.
This book is also about the development of Christian doctrines concerning the after-life. A Roman Catholic context is highlighted within a broader, universal cultural base. Professor Zaleski states that awareness of death is a complex spiritual discipline with various implications, some of which she explores in the course of these lectures. She points out the ubiquity of imagistic thinking with regard to death and the after-life, and declares that awareness of death is "ineradically an imaginative activity." She asks then what criteria we should use to determine "which kinds of imagistic thinking are sound."
Zaleski uses a new concept of symbolism to help make her case regarding the truly revelatory nature of contemporary NDEs and, again, as in Otherworld Journeys, when she comes right down to defining this new symbolism, she does so only very succinctly: "Not so long ago, a symbol was seen as a mask that embellishes or conceals an idea that might otherwise be expressed in straightforward moral or religious terms. More recently, however,....the symbol has been interpreted as a mediating form by which realities are conveyed that are not available for conceptual expression. A living symbol participates in the reality it represents. It does not copy or fully contain that reality, but it does communicate some of its power.Read more ›
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