Death and the Afterlife - RSST6410

Looking for a different module?

Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2021 to 2022
Autumn Term 5 30 (15) Chris Deacy checkmark-circle


This module will evaluate and critique a range of historical, philosophical, theological and secular perspectives on death and the afterlife, beginning with the way the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, the Qu'ran, the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Upanishads conceptualise the nature and destiny of humankind, including such concepts as sheol, moksha, purgatory, eternal life, heaven and hell. This will be followed by a discussion of the interplay in western theological and philosophical traditions between competing notions of the resurrection of the flesh and the immortality of the body as well as an evaluation of what various Christian thinkers, including Augustine and Origen, believed that an eternity in heaven or hell might be like.

The module will then investigate the range of eschatological teachings that different traditions have offered, including in Christian thought the diversity of realised and future forms of eschatology, as well as the tenability of purported testimony surrounding the possibility of out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and mind-dependent worlds, and the way in which such endeavours have been sustained or critiqued in the light of scientific and historical advances.

The module will conclude with a detailed study of the way in which filmmakers and novelists have approached eschatological and apocalyptic teachings and reconceptualised them. This will be done with specific reference to Conrad Ostwalt's work on the desacralisation of the apocalypse in Jewish and Christian thought in a range of 1990's Hollywood science fiction movies, and the impact that such attempts have had on the way questions of life after death have conventionally been approached.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 40

Method of assessment

Essay 1 (1,500 words) – 25%
Essay 2 (2,000 words) – 35%
Examination (2 hours) – 40%

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Bailey, L.W. & Yates, J. (eds.). (1996). The Near-Death Experience: A Reader. New York & London: Routledge.
Coward, H. (ed.). (2000). Life after Death in World Religions. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis.
Deacy, C. (2012). Screening the Afterlife: Theology, Eschatology and Film. London: Routledge.
Hick, J. (1976). Death and Eternal Life. London: Collins.
McDannell, C. & Lang, B. (1990). Heaven: A History. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
Neusner, J. (ed.). (2000). Death and the Afterlife. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module, students will be able to:

Understand the nature and scope of perspectives on death, eschatology and apocalypticism within a variety of world religions;
Identify, discuss and analyse the contribution made by key theologians and philosophers to the concept and necessity of an afterlife;
Identify and understand competing philosophical, theological and religious claims surrounding such teachings as the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the flesh;
Demonstrate a comprehensive awareness of the diversity of eschatological models within a variety of traditions (e.g. realised and future forms of eschatology, mind-dependent worlds, reincarnation and the concepts of the New Jerusalem and moksa);
Examine the purported evidence about the possibility of out-of-body and near-death experiences with reference to specific thinkers, as well as with respect to academic scepticism in this area;
Evaluate the influence of historical and scientific contexts on the eschatological and apocalyptic hopes that have arisen;
Appraise the ways in which novelists and filmmakers have contributed to our cultural or theological understanding of heaven and hell with reference to particular novels or films.


  1. Credit level 5. Intermediate level module usually taken in Stage 2 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
Back to top

University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.