“Beautifully written, expertly researched and masterfully presented, this tour of how heaven has been understood throughout history is absolutely fascinating.” —James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage
A smart and thought-provoking cultural history of heaven.
What do we think of when we think about heaven? What might it look like? Who or what might be there?
Since humans began to huddle together for protection thousands of years ago, these questions have been part of how civilizations and cultures define heaven, the good place beyond this one. From Christianity to Islam to Hinduism and beyond, from the brush of Michelangelo to the pen of Dante, people across millennia have tried to explain and describe heaven in ways that are distinctive and analogous, unique and universal.
In this engrossing cultural history of heaven, Catherine Wolff delves into how people and cultures have defined heaven over the centuries. She describes how different faiths and religions have framed it, how the sense of heaven has evolved, and how nonreligious influences have affected it, from the Enlightenment to the increasingly nonreligious views of heaven today. Wolff looks deep into the accounts of heaven to discover what’s common among them and what makes each conception distinct and memorable. The result is Beyond, an engaging, thoughtful exploration of an idea that is central to our humanity and our desire to define an existence beyond death.
About the Author
Catherine Wolff is a writer, editor, and former director of the Arrupe Center for Community Based Learning at Santa Clara University. She edited the collection Not Less Than Everything: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience from Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero. She is married to author Tobias Wolff. They have three grown children and three grandchildren and live in Stanford, California.
Praise for Beyond by Catherine Wolff:
“[F]ull of absorbing detail…Ms. Wolff writes with clarity and style, and she attempts to understand each conception of heaven, however distant from her own Roman Catholic belief, on its own terms.” —Wall Street Journal
“Beautifully curated…a reassuring guide for the spiritually curious." —America Magazine
"Beautifully written, expertly researched and masterfully presented, this tour of how heaven has been understood throughout history is absolutely fascinating." —James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage
“With exquisite care, Catherine Wolff plumbs the human longing for a transcendent world, the perennial ground of incredible imaginings. This fine book - crossing boundaries of history and culture, time and belief - puts the question with power: Is the longing for some ‘beyond’ a mere projection, or is it an inbuilt promise? Whatever else readers make of Catherine Wolff’s exhaustive survey of other worlds, they will come away from this celebration of an unflagging human hope more firmly rooted in the world we have, this heaven on earth.” —James Carroll, author of The Truth at the Heart of the Lie and An American Requiem
“I'm very, very impressed by Beyond—so beautifully researched, comprehensive, learned, and friendly in its presentation. It's the finest overall book on the afterlife that I have ever read.” —Ron Hansen, author of Hotly in Pursuit of the Real and Mariette in Ecstasy
“This spirited inquiry into the intriguing enigma of life after life is a revelation, moving deftly from ancient religious systems into modern secular attempts to pierce the mystery of what comes after. This seemingly otherworldly business proves to be our most enduring earthly preoccupation, binding us together across ages and cultures. The study of heaven, Catherine Wolff proves in her clear-eyed, grounded prose, is the most human thing about us.” —Patricia Hamp, author of The Art of the Wasted Day
“Within this slim book, there is a capaciousness of soul. You don’t have to be a believer (which I decidedly am not) to admire the erudition and fine feeling Catherine Wolff brings to human musings and longings regarding the great beyond.” —Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex
“Wolff's sprawling book could almost function as a world religions text . . . [A]n enlightening read for those curious about what may happen after we die, whether they're people of faith or not.” —Booklist
“With eloquent reporting on various cultures and faiths, the author presents her work as ‘a history of hope’… A soulful, far-reaching primer on what lies beyond.” —Kirkus
"Elegant…wide-ranging...spiritualists of any stripe will find much to ponder.” —Publisher's Weekly