Imagining Heaven

Depictions of the Afterlife in World Art Across the Millennia


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About the Book

Over the centuries, humans have conjured images—the stuff of dreams, convictions, and ardent desire—to describe our afterlife. The vision of heaven can appear as simple as a place among the stars or as complex as a universe filled with a multitude of busy souls.
Positioned at the intersection of art, religion, and culture, this book sheds new light on human creativity in its portrayal of the afterlife.
Beginning with prehistoric burial objects that help with one’s heavenly needs, it travels through history to probe ancient texts, examines enigmatic carvings, dissects the meaning of paintings, and discusses contemporary perspectives in film and media. The author demonstrates that humans around the world have always had the capacity to confront the “final frontier” in spirited, hopeful, and beautiful ways.

About the Author(s)

 Ellen W. Williams is a museum educator at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, New York.

Bibliographic Details

Ellen W. Williams

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 330
Bibliographic Info: 172 photos (all in color), chronology, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2024
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9045-2
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4991-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xiv
Preface 1
Timeline 3
Introduction 7
1 Through the Mists of Time­—Prehistory 11
2 “In those days, in those ­far-off days”—Ancient Mesopotamia 21
3 A Multimedia Guide to the Afterlife—Ancient Egypt 28
4 The Bridge—Zoroastrianism 38
5 The World to Come—Judaism 49
6 An Afterlife for Poet, Philosopher, Painter—Ancient Greece and Rome 57
7 “In My Father’s house are many mansions”—Christianity 66
8 To the Garden—Islam 84
9 For the Benefit of Lady Dai—China in the Second Century bce 96
10 The Cosmic Body—Jainism 107
11 In the Company of Gods—Hinduism 114
12 Realms of Existence—Buddhism 123
13 The Way of Immortality—Daoism 135
14 A Traveler “enters the road”—The Maya 149
15 Life from Death—The Aztecs 159
16 Becoming Huaca, a Holy Thing—The Inca 172
17 Where Land Meets Sky—Traditional Pacific Island Beliefs 178
18 The Ancestors—Traditional African Beliefs 188
19 At the Crossroads—The Vikings 195
20 Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery—Native North Americans 207
21 Personal Visions—American Outsider Art 215
22 We Are Spirits Passing On—Swedenborg and the Rise of Spiritualism 225
23 A Mother There—The Church of Jesus Christ of ­Latter-day Saints 232
24 “What if God was one of us?”—Contemporary Western Society 241
25 Other Heavens in the Universe 256
26 The Hope of Heaven 277
Chapter Notes 283
Bibliography 287
Index 307