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According to many religions, a soul is a supernatural and immaterial part of a human (compare spirit). In most religions, the soul is strongly connected to the afterlife, but opinions vary wildly on what happens to the soul after death. Many Materialists and most atheists reject the concept of a soul.

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1 Still More Beliefs and Ideas

The soul in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament)

(To be written)

Jewish beliefs

Jewish beliefs about the soul are discussed in some detail in the entry on Jewish eschatology.

The soul in the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism)

The Zohar posits that the human soul has three elements, the nefesh, ru'ah, and neshamah. The nefesh is found in all humans, and enters the physical body at birth. It is the source of one's physical and psychological nature. The next two parts of the soul are not implanted at birth, but are slowly created over time; their development depends on the actions and beliefs of the individual. They are said to only fully exist in people awakened spiritually. A common way of explaining the three parts of the soul is as follows:

  • Nefesh - the lower part, or animal part, of the soul. Is linked to instincts and bodily cravings.

  • Ruach - the middle soul, the spirit. It contains the moral virtues and the ability to distinguish between good and evil.

  • Neshamah - the higher soul, or super-soul. This separates man from all other life forms. It is related to the intellect, and allows man to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. This part of the soul is provided both to Jew and non-Jew alike at birth. It allows one to have some awareness of the existence and presence of God.

The Raaya Meheimna, a later addition to the Zohar by an unknown author, posits that there are two more parts of the human soul, the chayyah and yehidah. Gersom Scholem writes that these "were considered to represent the sublimest levels of intuitive cognition, and to be within the grasp of only a few chosen individuals".

  • Chayyah - The part of the soul that allows one to have an awareness of the divine life force itself.

  • Yehidad - the highest plane of the soul, in which one can achieve as full a union with God as is possible.

Both Rabbinic and kabbalistic works posit that there are also a few additional, non-permanent states to the soul that people can develop on certain occasions. These extra souls, or extra states of the soul, play no part in any afterlife scheme, but are mentioned for completeness.

  • Ruach HaKodesh - a state of the soul that makes prophecy possible. Since the age of classical prophecy passed, no one receives the soul of prophesy any longer.

  • Neshamah Yeseira - The supplemental soul that a Jew experiences on Shabbat. It makes possible an enhanced spiritual enjoyment of the day. This is exists only when one is observing Shabbat; it can be lost and gained depending on one's observance.

  • Neshoma Kedosha - Provided to Jews at the age of majority (13 for boys, 12 for girls), and is related to the study and fulfillment of the Torah commandments. It exists only when one studies and follows Torah; it can be lost and gained depending on one's study and observance.

Christian beliefs

Most Christians believe the soul to be the immortal essence of a human, and that after death, the soul is either rewarded or punished. Whether this reward or punishment is contingent upon doing good deeds, or merely upon believing in God and Jesus, is a heated dispute among different Christian groups.

A sometimes vexed question in Christianity has been the origin of the soul; the major theories put forward are creationism, traducianism and pre-existence.

A number of less mainstream Christian minority beliefs:

  • A few Christian groups do not believe in the soul, and hold that people cease to exist, both mind and body, at death; they claim however that God will recreate the minds and bodies of believers in Jesus Christ at some future time, the "end of the world".
  • Another minority of Christians believe in the soul, but don't believe it is inherently immortal. This minority also believes the life of Christ brings immortality, but only to believers.
  • Mediaeval Christian thinkers often assigned to the soul attributes such as thought and imagination as well as faith and love: this suggests that the boundaries between "soul" and "mind" can vary in different interpretations.
  • The soul sleep theory states that the soul goes to 'sleep' at the time of death, and stays in this quiescent state until the last judgment.
  • The 'absent from the body, present with the Lord' theory states that the soul at the point of death, immediately is present at the end of time, without experiencing any time passing between.
  • The 'purgatory' theory states the soul (if it is imperfect) spends a time of purging or cleansing before being ready for the end of time.

See the discussion on Christian eschatology for more information.

Buddhist beliefs

According to Buddhism, all component or conditioned things are impermanent and in a constant state of flux. Therefore in opposition, the existence of an unchanging and independent self, in this world, is denied since it goes against the Buddhist principle of selflessness (anatta). Buddhists hold that the notion of a permanent self is one of the main root causes for the wars and conflicts in human history, and that by living by anatta or not-self, we may go beyond our mundane desires. The ineffable state of Nirvana is solely recognized as being distinct. Conventionally speaking though, the soul or self for Buddhists is spoken of socially but under the conviction that we are dependent on others and not independent unchanging entities. At death the body & mind disintegrates, but if the disintegrating mind contains any remaining traces of karma, it will cause the continuity of the consciousness to bounce back an arising mind to an awaiting being (i.e. a fetus developing the ability to harbor consciousness). Thus Buddhists teach that a reborn being is neither entirely different nor exactly the same.

Hindu beliefs

The Sanskrit word most closely corresponding to soul is "atman", which can mean soul or self more or less interchangeably. There are many variant beliefs on the origin, purpose, and fate of the soul in Hinduism, owing to the fact that Hinduism is not, properly speaking, one religion but a diverse group of religions or religious philosophies. For example, advaita[?] (non-dualistic) conception of the soul accords it union with Brahman (the absolute uncreated; roughly, the Godhead), in eventuality or in pre-existing fact. Dvaita (dualistic) concepts reject this, identifying the soul as a different and incompatible substance.

Other beliefs

In Egyptian Mythology, a person possessed six souls, three of the body and three of the mind. They were called Chet, Ren, Schut, Ka, Ba and Ach.

Some Transhumanists believe that it will become possible to perform mind transfer, either from one human body to another, or from a human body to a computer. Operations of this type (along with teleportation), raise philosophical questions related to the concept of the Soul.

Crisscrossing and transcending any specific religion, the phenomena of therianthropy and the existence of otherkin might also be briefly mentioned. These can best be described as phenomena, and not beliefs, since people of all walks of life, religions, ethnicity, backgrounds and countries of origin find therianthropy to be a reality for them.

Therianthropy[?] is the belief that a person has a spiritual, emotional, or mental connection with an animal. This manifests itself in many forms, often resulting in a deeper spiritual awareness. The reasons for this occurrence (or existence), and purpose are often explained in terms of the person's own religion/religious beliefs. A similar belief is that held by Otherkin, who generally believe their souls are entirely non-human, and usually not of this world.

Still More Beliefs and Ideas

Another fairly large segment of the population, not necessarily favoring organized religion, labels themselves spiritual and hold that not only do humans have souls, but also all other living creatures aswell. Furthermore, still some believe the entire existence of the universe has a cosmic soul, a spirit or unified consciousness.

The soul spirit might be linked with the idea of an existance before and after this present one. The soul could be considered as the spark, the self. It is the 'I ' in existance that feels and lives life.

Some people think that our 'souls' are in part echoing to the edges of this universe. Even, multiple universes, with compiled multiple possibilities, (see science fiction author Robert Heinlein), each presented with a slightly different energy version of yourself.

Scientists have tried to measure the soul. The soul is an effective means to communicate certain information about ourselves. The soul is thought to be connected to The Great Spirit that is in all things. The weight of the soul remains elusive to science, but it seems every human has experienced something that touched their 'soul'. Whether it be a loved one, music, grief or happiness the soul is said to feel it all.

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