Heaven Can Wait: Purgatory in Catholic Devotional and Popular Culture

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9780195382020: Heaven Can Wait: Purgatory in Catholic Devotional and Popular Culture

After purgatory was officially defined by the Catholic Church in the thirteenth century, its location became a topic of heated debate and philosophical speculation: Was purgatory located on the earth, or within it? Were its fires real or figurative?

Diana Walsh Pasulka offers a groundbreaking historical exploration of spatial and material concepts of purgatory, beginning with scholastic theologians William of Auvergne and Thomas Aquinas, who wrote about the location of purgatory and questioned whether its torments were physical or solely spiritual. In the same period, writers of devotional literature located purgatory within the earth, near hell, and even in Ireland. In the early modern era, a counter-movement of theologians downplayed purgatory's spatial dimensions, preferring to depict it in abstract terms--a view strengthened during the French Enlightenment, when references to purgatory as a terrestrial location or a place of real fire were ridiculed by anti-Catholic polemicists and discouraged by the Church.

The debate surrounding purgatory's materiality has never ended: even today members of post-millennial ''purgatory apostolates'' maintain that purgatory is an actual, physical place. Heaven Can Wait provides crucial insight into the theological problem of purgatory's materiality (or lack thereof) over the past seven hundred years.

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About the Author:

Diana Walsh Pasulka earned her B.A. degree from the University of California at Davis, her M.A. from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Syracuse University. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and has published on the subject of conceptions of the afterlife and Catholic history. She is the chair of the American Academy of Religion group Death and Dying.


"The reader who dives into Heaven Can Wait will be well-rewarded with a fascinating and insightful overview of the history of purgatory in Catholic devotional and popular culture."--Catholic Books Review

"Purgatory is one of those key devotional topics that everyone in the Catholic world knows about, but almost no one knows how to talk about. Diana Walsh Pasulka knows how to talk about it: historically, sympathetically, and critically. What she gives us here is an eloquent history of purgatory that is sensitive to both the lived, often eccentric, religious and visionary experiences of the believers and the wider public debates and institutional politics that have defined and disciplined the official doctrine down through the centuries. It turns out that there is not one but many purgatories, and that these are even more interesting, and more eerie, than anyone imagined." --Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred

"Purgatory is one of those powerful religious ideas that won't go away, even when Catholics refuse to believe in it or can't define it. Diana Pasulka presents a wonderfully clear, well-researched study that shows how purgatory mediates this world and the next, and has evolved from a medieval place to a modern process. The rigor of her historical, material, and ethnographic investigation is exemplary for the study of religion." --David Morgan, Professor & Chair, Department of Religious Studies, Duke University

Heaven Can Wait is a lively exploration of the history of purgatory in Catholic doctrine and devotion. Pasulka covers a wide range of purgatory lore, from traditional to modernist, elite to popular, edifying to merely curious. Her major concern is the fate of purgatory in American Catholicism, and to that end she uncovers little-known material about the purgatory apostolates (featuring devotion to the holy souls) that have played an important part in Catholic life. Pasulka proves that purgatory is alive and well, having survived -- with significant adaptations -- the successive convulsions of early modern and modern Catholic life. --Carol Zaleski, Professor of World Religions, Smith College

"...[A] clear and concise narrative that traces purgatory's development from a physical place of punishment to a spiritual state...Pasulka's excellent scholarship makes this a valuable resource for historians and theologians and for the Catholic general audience... Highly recommended." --CHOICE

"Pasulka's accounts are interesting, and often touching, showing, as she says, people 'mourning for a doctrine that was once part of the lives of all Catholics.'"--The Catholic Historical Review

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