chapter  9
Death, being, and time: the historical context of the world religions
The historical context of the world religions Mike Porker Pearson
ByMIKE PARKER PEARSON
Pages 18

We all want to know what happens when we die. Perhaps this question lies at the core of our humanity along with the multitude of ways in which the human species has attempted to answer it during the last 100,000 years or more. This human quest has been both intensely personal and exaggeratedly institutional. Our realisation of ‘being in the face of death’ is a muse of both philosophy and religion, and has been a motivation for building the most stunning monuments as well as the inspiration for religious movements that have animated many millions. The greater part of this journey through the human religious experience is entirely undocumented other than through archaeological remains from prehistory. What can we say about the ways in which that experience has changed in the last 100,000 years or even in just the last 10,000? The initial answer is ‘not very much’. The archaeological record before 10,000 BP is extremely fragmentary and partial and, even after that date, how are we to explore aspects of the mind and its ideals when all that survive are material things? And yet there may be ways around this dilemma. Beliefs and faiths that have moved spiritual mountains have also constructed edifices of enduring permanence, size and complexity. We might describe this materialisation of the ideal as the technology of belief.