Original Research - Special Collection: Orthodox Theology

Reincarnation or eternal life? A reassessment of the dilemma from a cultural studies perspective and by resorting to the plurality of Christian eschatologies

Alina G. Patru
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 78, No 1 | a7857 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i1.7857 | © 2022 Alina G. Patru | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 June 2022 | Published: 18 November 2022

About the author(s)

Alina G. Patru, Department of Orthodox Theology, Faculty of Theology, Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Sibiu, Romania; and, Department of Systematic and Historical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa

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The present study starts from the discovery that reincarnationist ideas have spread massively throughout European and Western thought in general, in a framework where the belief in one life was defining. However, the quandary between the two afterlife interpretations in contemporary Western culture is distinct from similar conflicts in other times or places because post-Christian critique of the Christian tradition shapes how reincarnation theory is understood in the West today. Therefore, the present study shifts the debate from the realm of scientific and philosophical arguments to that of human needs and their cultural overtones. Contemporary reincarnationist theories circulating in the West are re-read through the grid of cultural criticism aimed at the shortcomings of one’s own tradition. As a next step, it is shown that only one of the forms that have developed within the Western tradition is the target of this criticism. The plurality of Christian eschatologies is yet unknown to most contemporary Westerners. This article is a plea for knowledge and contextualisation, which are prerequisites for navigating the ideational universe.

Contribution: This article addresses the dilemma between reincarnation and one-life theories as perceived by the contemporary Western mind and deciphers it in the light of human needs and contextual cultural criticism, while also pointing to the internal plurality of the Christian tradition that remains largely unknown to those involved in the debate.


reincarnation; one life; eternal life; heaven and hell; epectasy; afterlife; deed and reward; divine justice; new spirituality; religious individualisation


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