Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions
Cambridge University Press 2015
Christian Lange’s Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions (Cambridge University Press, 2015), which was recently awarded the British-Kuwaiti Friendship Society’s Book Prize, presents a rich, challenging, and meticulous account of how Muslims have conceptualized the spiritual world across the centuries. (Lange also edited a related volume with Brill, 2016, Locating Hell in Islamic Traditions.) With great perspicacity, the author explores Sunni and Shi’i views on his topic as well as Sufi understandings with attention to contrast and similarity amongst the schools of thought that he studies. In order to disrupt assumptions about popular conceptions, Professor Lange frequently employs the term “Otherworld” instead of perhaps more expected terms like afterlife. On this note, one of the arguments the author presents throughout the monograph, based on his extensive research, is that Islamic traditions have often articulated this Otherworld as something connected to the material world, even if it is also transcendent in important ways. Thus one of the books many strengths is its ability to present challenging paradoxes in ways that are accessible, while grounded in textual tradition.
In addition to drawing upon numerous textual canons, including Quran and Hadith, Professor Lange also makes effective use of art as well modern data analysis in order to observe things like how many times a key word for Paradise and Hell (e.g., al-Janna or al-Nar) appears in various texts. And in order to complement his lucid yet erudite writing, the author includes tables and images to help guide the reader. The organization of the book, moreover, with its clear subsections and chapter themes, will prove helpful for educators and researchers looking to explore particular facets of the book’s topic, even if the arrangement of the book also allows for it to naturally build on its previous sections. This engaging book will likely interest scholars and teachers of classical Islamic thought, soteriology, textual hermeneutics, and art history among other areas.
Elliott Bazzano is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Le Moyne College. His research and teaching interests include theory and methodology in the study of religion, Islamic studies, Quranic studies, mysticism, religion and media, and religion and drugs. His academic publications are available here. He can be reached at ([email protected]). Listener feedback is most welcome.