This less will provide an overview for how different religions view death and the afterlife.

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Approaches to Studying Religions

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Death-- it's something that we all face. It's what makes us human. Religion seeks to transform death into hope of immortality. To transform the end of the line into a beginning point.

Religions have all kinds of ideas about the afterlife. Whether there might be immortality of the soul. Perhaps there are many lives. Maybe some kind of heaven or hell. Or perhaps we just merge into god. Suffering and death become a gateway into a higher reality.

So religions work by diagnosing the problem and trying to find a cure. So a way out of sin and into forgiveness. A way out of ignorance and into knowledge.

A way out of death and into eternal life. The way out of craving and into detachment. The way out of wrongness and into rightness.

Religions all do this in different ways. But they affirm that there's something that needs to be cured about the human condition, including death. To a skeptic, this might seem simply ridiculous. That we just go into the ground and rot. But for religion and for human culture, death is highly generative of new ideas about supernatural entities, about other worlds, about higher levels of reality that can't be seen by the eye.

Fundamental to many religions also is the idea of judgment, especially in the Abrahamic faiths-- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The idea that God will judge people based on their deeds. In Christianity, one must accept Christ in order to be saved from sure destruction. But in Judaism and Islam the idea is more, good deeds, you be rewarded, bad deeds, you'll be punished. And really, this plays into the problem of evil, which we'll be talking about in another tutorial.

So death and the afterlife and judgment can be one way of dealing with the evil that we see in this world. Because if bad people get punished and good people get rewarded, then it restores our faith in some kind of cosmic justice. Death can be transformed by religion into something much more amazing.

And this is one of the features of religion that has made it so persistent over time. Because it seems to offer people knowledge about something that they simply can't know. That is, what's on the other side of the grave?

Thanks for watching this tutorial on death. We said that religions have many different ways of responding to death, of taking this ending of life and making it into the beginning of something new and better. We have two vocabulary terms for this lesson-- "nirvana," which is liberation from suffering in Buddhism, and "ancestor," which is a descendant from one's family tree.

So in many traditions around the world, you can become an ancestor after death, which means that your are descendants will sacrifice to you and talk to you. And you can still keep in touch with your family after you die. Not that much different from many people today who hope that they will see their dead loved ones when they themselves cross over to the other side.

Notes on "Death"

Terms to Know


In Buddhism, liberation from suffering.


A descendant from one’s family tree.

  • Nirvana

    In Buddhism, liberation from suffering.

  • Ancestor

    A descendant from one’s family tree.