Thinking Through the Afterlife

Ascent of the Blessed
Instructor: Kristof K. P. Vanhoutte
In cooperation with:

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 propose an “immanentized” reading of the five spheres of the beyond. Staging a Foucauldian Archeology of political theology, we will approach our sources historically and hermeneutically. Our focus will be on (a) the creation and signification of the realms of the beyond, (b) the frequent intermingling of the living and the dead, and (c) the possible implications and applications of these (historical) realms of life after death. While we will mainly deal with the West, we will also turn to other parts of the world to test how applicable our findings may be. And although our main playing field will be the past, we will consult thinkers such as Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben to see how categories of the beyond have been used to critique 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: 15

Monday, Tuesday 19:00-22:00
14,15 October – 11,12 November – 9,10 December, 2019
18 hours (3 weeks)
The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore
9, rue de Médicis
75006, Paris