Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife

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A groundbreaking and accessible history of heaven—from the earliest biblical conceptions of the afterlife to the theologians who frame our understandings to the convictions and perceptions of everyday people.

The desire for a celestial afterlife is universal. It is as old as the Bible itself. While there are many notions of what exactly heaven is and how we get there, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all agree that heaven is God's home. Drawing on history and popular culture, ...

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A groundbreaking and accessible history of heaven—from the earliest biblical conceptions of the afterlife to the theologians who frame our understandings to the convictions and perceptions of everyday people.

The desire for a celestial afterlife is universal. It is as old as the Bible itself. While there are many notions of what exactly heaven is and how we get there, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all agree that heaven is God's home. Drawing on history and popular culture, biblical research and everyday beliefs, Heaven offers a new understanding of one of the most cherished—and shared—ideals of spiritual life.

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Editorial Reviews

Scott Russell Sanders
…intriguing…[Miller] wears her learning lightly…she knows how to translate theological ideas into plain language. She is as lucid in deciphering the arguments of Thomas Aquinas or Martin Luther as in interpreting a lyric from the Talking Heads or testimony from survivors of near-death experiences or data from opinion polls.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Heaven. The word evokes all kinds of images and feelings in the hearts of people virtually everywhere. In some corners, heaven is seen as a vague sense of euphoria, a state of everlasting bliss. In other corners, heaven is a busy place, where eternal progression is the challenge of eternity. In this fine work, Miller, religion editor for Newsweek, surveys this fascinating subject from the earliest days of Judaism to contemporary expressions of faith. Beneath her pleasing prose and often amusing observations about the afterlife, there is a longing, a desire to be part of what heaven really is. And it is this sense of personal yearning that informs her delightful and insightful study. Heaven is hope, “a constant hope for unimaginable perfection even as we fail to achieve it.” This marvelous work is a readable and wonderfully realized study of this “constant hope” that we share. And whether we align with Augustine or with the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, whether we’re informed by scripture or by popular culture, Heaven will delight and edify readers at every level. (Mar. 23)
Kirkus Reviews
An introduction to what monotheists of all stripes believe about heaven. Newsweek society and religion editor Miller offers an overview that combines elements of journalism, academics and memoir. Her approach provides an intriguing glimpse at what many believe the afterlife holds, though the author's own discomfort with the idea of heaven occasionally weighs down the ethereal subject matter. Her continued personal separation from the subject is meant to point out the widespread uncertainty about heaven, but in a book about those who believe, the author's distance becomes tiresome. Nonetheless, Miller does an exemplary job covering all monotheistic faiths, even including the oft-overlooked Mormons in her analysis. She begins by seeking out areas of agreement among Christians, Jews and Muslims in terms of the afterlife, which are surprisingly broad. She then explores the qualities of heaven taught by various traditions, as well as the question of resurrection versus spiritual continuance after death. The author also tackles the all-important idea of who gets into heaven and why, a complex topic that spans time and tradition. She ends by introducing the reader to those who have seemed closest to heaven, from desert hermits to car-accident survivors. Despite the central theme of the afterlife in so many religions, little work has been done on the subject across faith lines, so Miller's book is a welcome addition. Her use of personal interviews provides a refreshing a real-life flair to her study. Populist approach by an elite, but a good starting point. Agent: David McCormick/McCormick & Williams Literary Agency
“Miller’s whirlwind tour of heaven is an entertaining primer on a most complex subject.”
Karen Armstrong
“This fascinating, thoughtful, and challenging study tells us a great deal about what it means to be a human being.”
Sam Harris
“Lisa Miller has long been the fairest and most engaging journalist covering religion in America. In Heaven, she has accomplished the impossible: She has written a book about religion that fundamentalists, moderates, liberals, and nonbelievers alike can read with extreme pleasure.”
Stephen Prothero
“A rare combination of journalism, memoir, and historical research by a self-professed skeptic who nonetheless believes in hope, this smart yet heartfelt book leads us into the center of one of the greatest conversations of all time. And Lisa Miller is the perfect conversation partner.”
Martin E. Marty
“Readers of HEAVEN will more likely than not find their own imaginations enriched, their experiences enhanced, their taste for exploration enlarged, and their impulse to reach out in empathy and hope quickened.”
Library Journal
Miller (religion editor, Newsweek) offers a sample of the myriad views of heaven held by Americans today, as well as surveying the inspiration for those views, from both the Abrahamic traditions and contemporary culture. She casts a wide net for her interview subjects, including Mormons, Lubavitcher Jews, Swedenborgians, and a Catholic lay hermit, along with theologians, religious leaders, and typical Christians, Jews, and Muslims. She presents us with the historical thought and writings as well as pop culture sources that are the basis of various current understandings of heaven, including chapters on different aspects of the question of heaven such as who will be there; she even goes so far as to address the question of whether heaven will be boring. Like the stories of many people today, Miller's own religious story is complex; throughout the text, she interweaves her personal struggle with the idea of heaven. VERDICT Miller's potpourri of ancient tradition and modern opinions should prove interesting to any general reader who has ever wondered about the great beyond. All of this will already be familiar to specialists. [See "Prepub Exploded," BookSmack!, November 19, 2009]—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594260356
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/23/2010
  • Pages: 331
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Lisa Miller is an award-winning journalist and an editor at Newsweek, where she writes regularly about religion, values, culture, and politics. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix

1 What Is Heaven? 1

2 The Miracle 27

3 The Kingdom Is Near 53

4 Green, Green Pastures 81

5 Resurrection 105

6 Salvation 125

7 Visionaries 157

8 Reunions 183

9 Is Heaven Boring? 207

Epilogue 239

Author's Note and Acknowledgments 249

Notes 255

Bibliography 297

Index 321

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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