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No coward soul

02 April 2012

David Atkinson finds a wide-ranging study pastorally motivated


The Battle for the Soul: A comparative analysis in an age of doubt
Robert Crawford
Palgrave Macmillan £55
Church Times Bookshop £49.50

THIS beautifully produced — if expensive — book addresses the question of the soul. What does it mean? Is it immortal? Can we hope for life after death? How does belief in immortality sit with the concept of resurrection?

Robert Crawford, who has been a university teacher in London, the United States, and Africa, and, I think, is now retired in Sussex (at least, he thanks the libraries in Worthing and Goring for their help), explores the meaning of “soul” in Jewish and Christian faiths, in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Then he outlines some philosophical themes: dualism, empiricism, and material­ism, followed by a couple of chap­ters on Darwin and neo-Darwinians.

Given such a wide range of inter­ests, the discussion is inevitably fairly cursory in places, and there is a great deal of A says this, but B says that. Kant gets a paragraph; so does Freud; Jung manages only six lines. Some of the background scholar­ship is fairly dated (there is some dependence on Wheeler Robinson for the chapter on The Jewish Soul, and William Barclay is quoted for some New Testament views), but, in the later chapters, Richard Dawkins is given an extended critique, Richard Swinburne has a mention, and the valuable work of Nancey Murphy and her colleagues on “non-reductive physicalism” is right up to date.

At the level of an introduction to the thought of six great world reli­gions, this is a very helpful survey. There is much more in these first chapters than simply the question of the soul, the self, or the mind (Craw­­ford sometimes seems to use the terms interchangeably). But I found the broad and, therefore, inevitably too thin discussion of some of the huge themes in the philosophy of mind less satisfying.

The pastoral motivation is clear throughout, and Crawford’s conclu­sion is worth quoting: “One thing seems sure that whether it is the resurrection of the body as hoped for in the Semitic religions, or the immortality of the soul as portrayed in the Indian religions, we will be in the right condition to enjoy what God has prepared for us.”

Dr Atkinson is an Hon. Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Southwark.

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