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  • Author or Editor: Jeffrey Burton Russell x
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The word “afterlife” has three main denotations along with scores of connotations. The question whether afterlife exists depends largely on one’s definition of reality and falls outside the scope of this entry. “Afterlife” is best understood as the historical concept that there is an individual or communal survival of the human personality after bodily death. There are many variations in the concept within religions as well as across religions. ⸙

The concepts of heaven and hell constitute a specific view of afterlife that focuses on morality, character, and judgment. Though not unique to the three main monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — heaven and hell are more important in these religions than in other ones. Monotheism considers community important — Israel, the communion of saints, the umma — but it also holds that individuals are obliged to form their own characters, whether faithful or unfaithful, and it is on the basis of one’s character that one is judged worthy of being either in joyful closeness with God in heaven or in agonizing alienation from God and community in hell. ⸙