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The afterlife is a concept widespread in many beliefs and faiths around the globe, ranging from a dichotomy of heaven and hell to possibilities of rebirth and reincarnation. As a social mechanism, religion cannot exist without a goal, and studying various ideas about life after death becomes a crucial step in analyzing the core tenets of any belief system. Thus, the perception of what awaits a person at the end of their life, transitioning into a new stage of being or nonbeing, permits further determining the lynchpin ideas of religious convictions of numerous world religions.
Why this Concept?
One of the most interesting facts about the notion of the afterlife is that it is a belief that is common among almost all religious faiths and denominations, as something that happens after a person’s death. In all of the religions covered, except Taoism and Shinto, the actions of a person during their lifetime influence their fate in the afterlife, which does not necessarily mean paradise. If “understanding how religious traditions and their patterns of authority and legitimation, belief, and belonging change has become important” then posthumous punishment, reward, or nonexistence of either plays one of the most critical determinative roles (Knott, 2016, p. 24).
Therefore, in religions such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Judaism the afterlife becomes a life-long regulative factor, creating a promise of reimbursement for a life lived arduously by religious tenets.
The Significance of the Afterlife
Heaven, hell, reincarnation, a continuation of life in its other phase, or unification with other possible spirits – all of these are possibilities of what a person’s afterlife will be like depending on their belief system. The identified regulatory function of the afterlife sustained by clear moral guidelines that must be followed throughout a person’s life permits separating not only religious people from non-believers but also those worthy of undesirables. Religions such as Christianity, Islam, and in some sense even Judaism, which have a particular conception of heaven and hell as places people may enter, judge suitability by the piety of a human’s earthly life (Moreman, 2018).
Buddhism, Sikhism, and Hinduism create a similar system of appraisal, but for a different purpose, as in their conceptions, the soul is reborn and reincorporated into the world of the living (Moreman, 2018). Shinto and Taoism instead pursue the idea of posthumous spiritual consolidation (Moreman, 2018). Therefore, the afterlife becomes an undeniably important keystone idea in almost all religions.
As a critical notion, the idea of a rewarding afterlife becomes a red thread that binds together a person’s life through an installment of a code of conduct. Thus, moral guidelines affect all aspects of life, with prayer, as an example, being one of the most common and widely followed sacred rules for achieving salvation. Prayer may be conducted only in proper places and desirably in a kinsperson’s presence and thus a growing Muslim community in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was warranted the building of a mosque in 2010 (Bowen, 2017).
Now, regular prayer is an available component of day-to-day life, becoming an essential part of the Tennessee Muslim community’s life. Without adhering to the instilled guidelines, a person may not be considered a believer and thus may not be guaranteed a favorable afterlife, which creates the necessity of faithfulness to a doctrine that regulates everyday life. Additionally, the existence of mosques makes burial rites accessible for Tennessee Muslims, which may now be adequately conducted, according to Islamic guidelines and with burial prayer.
The fate of a believing individual after death, regardless of their destination, is determined by the set of rules that a particular person follows. A lack of devotion in following the rules becomes detrimental to their fate after death, with conceptions of punishment balancing together with ideas of reward. Effectively, the afterlife gives any religion a logical reason for faithful adherence, other than beliefs alone, and ties together religious people, deities, and their statutes.
Bowen, J. R. (2017). Religions in practice: An approach to the anthropology of religion (7th ed). New York, NY: Routledge.
Knott, K. (2016). How to study religion. In L. Woodhead, C. Partridge, & H. Kawanami (Eds.), Religions in the modern world: Traditions and transformations (pp. 15-40). New York, NY: Routledge.
Moreman, C. M. (2018). Beyond the threshold: Afterlife beliefs and experiences in world religions (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.