Thinking Through the Afterlife
Instructor: Kristof K. P. Vanhoutte
Death, and especially the dead, make modern man highly uneasy. Death mainly remains of interest in the attempt to overcome it. The dead, meanwhile, have been completely banished, with survivors becoming the focus of attention in the attempt to remove this macabre fact from our society. It would appear that the Reformation has succeeded in convincing the West of the biblical injunction to “let the dead bury the dead.” However, this was not always the case: From Antiquity well into the late Middle Ages, death was omnipresent, and the dead continued to play an active role in the society they had left behind. The border between the here and the hereafter was a rather porous one; Heaven and Hell and its respective inhabitants often came to visit; and if it hadn’t been for quite mundane sociopolitical changes in the 11th and 12th century, Purgatory and Limbo would never have come into existence.
In this course, we will start out by sketching the historical worlds where death intermingled with life, mainly focusing on the West but with occasional incursions into other parts of the world. We will go on to study the various ways in which life and afterlife interacted, dealing with tales of ghosts, revenants, armies of devils, witches’ sabbaths, demonic possessions, saintly protection, intervention and beatings of relics, and the creation of Purgatory and Limbo in parallel with the birth of the medieval city. Last but definitely not least, we will turn to contemporary philosophers, such as Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben, who use concepts and spheres of the afterlife in their critique of contemporary society. All throughout, our main question will be: How can the afterlife help us better understand the world we live in today?
Maximum enrollment: 20
18 hours (4-6 weeks)
Exact times and dates are determined in consultation with the participants.
5 Rue des Fontaines du Temple