Spirituality Group Discusses Afterlife Perspectives

The Center for Spirituality and Social Justice hosted a discussion called “After Death, What?” to discuss interfaith perspectives on the afterlife. Geoffrey Cole ’20 facilitated the discussion, which was held in conjunction with Asbell Center for Jewish Life and Dickinson Christian Fellowship. Rabbi Marley Weiner, who runs the Asbell Center for Jewish Life, and Andrew Berg, who works with Dickinson Christian Fellowship and Intervarsity also contributed to the project.

Much of the early discussion involved different perspectives on the afterlife. Weiner described the Jewish perspective on the afterlife. “The Jewish tradition has a lot of things to say about death – it’s sort of a choose your own adventure,” she said. She described how there are many different traditions, practices and descriptions relating to the afterlife to choose from. 

Berg said that it was difficult to describe the Christian view of the afterlife because “it is hard to detach myths.” He referenced the levels of hell in Dante’s Inferno, which are not a part of the Bible, but often included in the conception of the afterlife. One key element he did note was that a Christian afterlife should be understood “in context of Christianity being for the oppressed for hundreds of years.” For early Christians there was reassurance that “God has the last word – there’s cosmic justice.” He also noted his dissatisfaction with current attitudes towards death. “In our culture death is scientific, and almost dehumanized,” Berg said.

Students also talked about their views on the afterlife. Kevin Ssonko ’20 said that he was raised in a very evangelical environment, but now “wouldn’t bet on anything happening after I die.”

Cole said that the event was planned following a similar conversation. Cole said that he and Weiner “had a conversation in a smaller setting with a couple of students two years ago. We always wanted to do an interfaith conversation about something people care about.” He also said that he appreciates “that free flowing discussion where each person can express there are ideals as they come up.”

Ssonko said that he was most interested in “views on eternity any commentary of death as a finality.” Of the event as a whole he said, “Landis house is always doing good things. I appreciate it and I haven’t been able to come to one in a while.” 

Natalie Cist ’23 attended because she is a part of Dickinson Christian Fellowship, and also because the event was “a good place to eat.” “[I was] curious to follow the wide variety of beliefs within a religion,” she said.

The discussion was a part of Better Together Week, which is a national interfaith initiative from Feb. 16-22. “At a moment in time in our country and on our campus where we find reasons not to talk to one another, these sorts of conversations are important. We can’t do anything alone,” Cole said.

The discussion was attended by over a dozen people including college students, faculty, staff and alumni at the college.