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Afterlife and “A World to Come:" Comparing/Contrasting the Views of Humanity’s Major Religions and Philosophical Traditions
Instructor: Dr. Randall H. Niehoff

A group of buddhist monks in orange robes holding hands.

March 8 @ 9:30 am - March 22 @ 11:00 am

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Anthropologists have taught that one can glimpse the philosophic perspective of a culture by observing how they handle their dead. End-of-life customs reveal a community’s answer to the question of whether the universe is understood to be neutral, hostile, or friendly to our existence.

Looking back into history, archeologists have unearthed prehistoric burials dating to around 130,000 BCE in Israel and 80,000 BCE in Africa. After the end of the last glacial period, our homo sapiens ancestors began a new chapter (10,500-8500 BCE) as they began to abandon a nomadic lifestyle for a sedentary one marked by the organization of tribal and village societies.

Archeology has shown the earliest recorded burial and grave assemblages date to around 7500 BCE.  “History” began with the development of writing (ca. 3200 BCE in Mesopotamia); and from then on, we can read a people’s own statements of opinion about their place in the cosmos. A consistent truth from both religion and philosophy is that how a person thinks about creation determines how they will think about themselves.

Most cultures have expressed an expectation of an afterlife, and most have speculated with vivid creativity what such a life would be like in a “world to come.” It is a function of being human to wonder (philosophize). From childhood we carry the big questions: “Who am I? Who are you? What is the world like?”

Out of our deep psychological need for answers has come:

  1.  the scientific search for unchangeable truth:  WHAT is going on?  HOW does it work?
  2.  the spiritual search for ultimate value:  WHY are we here?  WHO is responsible?

Living with these questions and pondering the prospect of an afterlife and a “world to come,” our course will survey the perspectives provided by science – especially quantum physics. Our stance will reflect that of Werner von Braun who wrote:  Science tells us that nothing in nature, not even the tiniest particle, can disappear without a trace. All it knows is transformation… and everything science has taught me… strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death. Nothing disappears without a trace.

We will also compare/contrast the philosophic visions as experienced in the practice of spirituality in the eight major religious traditions where a consensus arises that echoes the theological vision of the mystic Franciscan teacher Richard Rohr: Death is not a changing of world as most imagine as much as the walls of this world infinitely expanding.  

Our discussions will be inspired by both:  a) the classic common sense of a wise American, Abraham Lincoln, who said: Life is eternal and love is immortal, and what we call death is but a horizon, and a horizon is only the limit of our sight;  and b) the challenging insight of Albert Einstein who taught: Time and space are modes by which we think, not conditions in which we live.  

Suggested pre-reads:

Handouts for reviewing at home will be available before each session. Classes will be conducted in the style of a seminar with guided discussion rather than lectures. Comments and questions will be encouraged. A comprehensive list of resources for further study will be given out at the end of the course.

Meanwhile, the following material is recommended in preparation:

Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death, Sam Parnia, MD (2013)

Science and the Afterlife Experience:  Evidence for the Immortality of Consciousness, Christopher David Carter (2012)

How Different Religions View Death and the Afterlife (Third Edition), Christopher Jay Johnston, ed. (2018)

You Tube:  Dr. Oz Show (1/22/2018) – interview with two physicians who each had a “Near Death Experience:” Dr. Eben Alexander and Dr. Mary C. Neal.

The answer to human life is not to be found within the limits of human life. ~ Carl Jung

Fridays, March 8, 15, 22, 2024, 9:30 a.m.-11:00 a.m.

3-week workshop, $100 / $80 Annual Donors

Class meets at 900 Dunlop Road. To register, call 239-395-0900.


Randall H. Niehoff Headshot.Degrees: BA (Philosophy) from Washington University (St. Louis); M. Div.and D. Min (Theology) from Eden Theological Seminary (Webster Groves, MO)

Sabbatical Studies: Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies (Israel); American School for Classical Studies (Athens, Greece); American Academy of Rome (Italy); Westminster College/Cambridge University (England)

Ordained in 1967 as a Minister in the United Church of Christ, Ran has served as pastor and teacher in four congregations, the latest being Sanibel Congregational UCC (1991-2008). He taught part-time in the Sociology Dept. of Salem State University (MA) and was the counselor for the terminally ill at Jones Memorial Hospital (Wellsville, NY). He has presented numerous seminars, planned and led 11 study tours overseas, and conducted Winter Academy classes at BIG ARTS beginning in 2011. He writes a regular column in the Times of the Islands magazine (entitled Gulfcoast Zeitgeist). Ran and his wife, Marilyn, have been residents of Sanibel since 1991. He can be contacted by e-mail at

CANCELLATION POLICY: Cancellations made more than one week prior to the start of class will receive an 80% refund.

-Or- funds can be transferred to any other workshop of your choice during the current season.

Registration fees are non-refundable and non-transferable for cancellations made less than one-week (7-days) prior to the start of the class.


March 8 @ 9:30 am
March 22 @ 11:00 am

Call for details/to register

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BIG ARTS Sanibel
900 Dunlop Rd
Sanibel, FL 33957 United States
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(239) 395-0900
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