When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought

Paperback | April 15, 2012

byTerryl L. Givens

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The idea of the pre-existence of the soul has been extremely important, widespread, and persistent throughout Western history - from even before the philosophy of Plato to the poetry of Robert Frost. When Souls Had Wings offers the first systematic history of this little explored feature ofWestern culture. Terryl Givens describes the tradition of pre-existence as "pre-heaven"- the place where unborn souls wait until they descend to earth to be born. And typically it is seen as a descent - a falling away from a happier and untroubled state into the turbulent and sinful world we know. The title of thebook refers to the idea put forward in antiquity that our souls begin with wings, and that only after shedding those wings do we fall to earth. The book not only traces the history of the idea of pre-existence, but also captures its meaning for those who have embraced it. Givens describes how pre-existence has been invoked to explain "the better angels of our nature," including the human yearning for transcendence and the sublime. Pre-existence has been said to account for why we know what we should not know, whether in the form of a Greek slave's grasp ofmathematics, the moral sense common to humanity, or the human ability to recognize universals. The belief has explained human bonds that seem to have their own mysterious prehistory, salved the wounded sensibility of a host of thinkers who could not otherwise account for the unevenly distributedpain and suffering that are humanity's common lot, and has been posited by philosophers and theologians alike to salvage the principle of human freedom and accountability. When Souls had Wings underscores how durable (and controversial) this idea has been throughout the history of Western thought, the theological dangers it has represented, and how prominently it has featured in poetry, literature, and art.

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The idea of the pre-existence of the soul has been extremely important, widespread, and persistent throughout Western history - from even before the philosophy of Plato to the poetry of Robert Frost. When Souls Had Wings offers the first systematic history of this little explored feature ofWestern culture. Terryl Givens describes the t...

Terryl L. Givens is Professor of Literature and Religion and holds the James Bostwick Chair of English at the University of Richmond. Some of his books include Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy (Oxford, 1997), By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (Oxford 2002...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:400 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.68 inPublished:April 15, 2012Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199916853

ISBN - 13:9780199916856

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Table of Contents

PrologueIntroduction1. Ancient Near Eastern Traditions2. Classical Variants3. Philo to Christian Beginnings4. Neo-Platonism and the Church Fathers5. Augustine and the Formation of Orthodoxy6. Middle Ages to the Renaissance7. Cambridge Platonists and the Miltonic Heritage8. The Eighteenth Century and the Cartesian Aftermath9. Philosophy and Theology 1800-190010. Romanticism and Transcendentalism 1800-190011. Pre-Existence in the Modern Age12. Parallel ParadigmsEpilogue