REL 3191 – Death and the Afterlife in World Religions


General Education Credit: Elective
College Credit: 3

Course Instructor: Vasudha Narayanan
Vasudha Narayanan, Ph.D.
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About The Course

This course is divided into two sections and both examine conceptions of death and the afterlife. The first (and longer) section examines conceptions of death and the afterlife from the perspective of various religious traditions from around the world. Topics that will be explored in this section include: conceptions of a soul (if any), what happens to a person at death, funerary rites, various conceptions of a/the ultimate reality (theistic, monistic, and so forth), notions of salvation, and/or liberation, judgment, and various conceptions time (e.g., linear or cyclical). The second section will explore how some of these religious perspectives are reflected in popular culture and spiritual movements. This section will focus on views of reincarnation and debates over the topic of near-death experiences.

Course Goals

Upon successful completion of this course the student will be able to:

  • Provide a background for each religious tradition to contextualize notions of death and the afterlife.
  • Recognize basic conceptions of death and the afterlife according to various Western and Eastern religious traditions (Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese, Japanese Indigenous, Christian, Judaic, and Islamic traditions) as exemplified through sacred texts (written or oral), ritual practices, and popular beliefs.
  • Identify a few funerary practices associated with different religious traditions.
  • Understand relationships between conceptions of death and the afterlife and key doctrinal positions maintained by the respective religious tradition.

Satisfied High School Graduation Requirement Subject: Elective
High School Credit: 0.5