heaven, blissful upper realm or state entered after death; in Western monotheistic religions it is the place where the just see God face to face (sometimes called the beatific vision). In Judaism, heaven is pictured as the abode of God to which he ultimately welcomes the righteous and faithful. Many Christians believe that after the general resurrection the body of a Christian will be glorified and reunited forever with the soul in heaven. The Roman Catholic church teaches that before entering heaven many souls must pass through purgatory to be made ready. Much of the conventional imagery of the Christian heaven—e.g., golden streets—is based on the Book of Revelation. In Islam, the Qur'an describes heaven in graphically idyllic terms, replete with fleshly delights; but Islam also has a strong mystical tradition which places these heavenly delights in the context of the ecstatic awareness of God. In Zoroastrianism, the souls of the deceased must pass over the Bridge of the Requiter, which widens to allow easy passage for the good, who enter a kingdom of joy and light. In both Hinduism and Buddhism, existence is considered cyclical, making the rewards and pleasures of heaven a desirable but temporary experience; the higher objective is often conceived as a release from any form of rebirth, whether in heaven or on earth. For comparable ideas see Elysian fields; Fortunate Isles; Valhalla.
See P. Toon, Heaven and Hell (1986); C. McDannell, Heaven (1988).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.