immortality, attribute of deathlessness ascribed to the soul in many religions and philosophies. Forthright belief in immortality of the body is rare. Immortality of the soul is a cardinal tenet of Islam and is held generally in Judaism, although it is not an essentially Jewish idea. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed in an afterlife, in which the souls of men lived on, but generally only the gods were considered truly immortal. The ancient Celts believed firmly in immortality. In the East, Zoroastrianism posited immortality. The religions arising in India (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism) generally consider individual immortality undesirable and believe in reincarnation of men as a chain eventually leading to reunion with the infinite (Nirvana). Christianity teaches the resurrection of the body (in the sense of survival of personality) as well as immortality of the soul. See spiritism; heaven; hell.
See C. J. Caes, Beyond Time: Ideas of the Great Philosophers on Eternal Existence and Immortality (1985); P. and L. Badham, Death and Immortality in the Religions of the World (1987).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.