Isabel MOREIRA and Margaret TOSCANO, editors,
Hell and Its Afterlife: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.
Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010. pp. 266 + xvi. $99.95 hb. ISBN 978-0754667292.
Wilburn T. STANCIL, Rockhurst University, Kansas City, MO 64110
The origin of this book is a conference on the topic of hell held at the University of Utah in 2006. From the conference, 15 papers are included in the book. Contributors are from disciplines of history, religious studies, literature, classics and media arts. The editors are both on faculty at the University of Utah.
The papers are ordered chronologically, from ancient views on hell to modern interpretations. The wide-range of themes in these papers includes the following:
* The “assault” on hell through a journey to the underworld to rescue a loved one;
* Hell as a place of education and conversion;
* The rise of the concept of purgatory;
* Hell as a tool for stigmatizing unpopular and/or heretical groups;
* Variation in Catholic and Protestant views of hell during the Reformation;
* The preaching of hell in the “new world” to justify the conquering of native peoples;
* The history of the Catholic afterlife: heaven, hell, purgatory, and two limbos;
* Evangelical debates on eternal punishment;
* Mormonism and the concept of hell;
* James Joyce’s use of hell-fire sermons in his writings;
* Urban imagery for hell in Dante, Blake, T.S. Eliot and James Thomson;
* Hell in the comic book Lucifer and the movie Hellboy;
* The media’s use of the narrative of hell to report on terrorism.
A series of essays such as this lends itself to redundancy, but to the credit of the editors, the book manages to keep that at a minimum. However, its strength is also its weakness. On the one hand, because each writer is drawing from his or her expertise, the reader is treated to concise, insightful essays. On the other hand, not all essays, nor even a majority, will be of interest to everyone. This is one of those books where there is something for everyone in general but not necessarily a lot for anyone in particular. Whereas readers might be reluctant to invest in a book such as this—especially at such a high price, seminary and college libraries may want to own a copy.
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