Reincarnation in Pop Culture

Intriguingly labeled "posthuman," and implying the end of death, this particular idea has served to blur the lines between reincarnation and resurrection.  After all, if our definition of being human is scheduled for radical redefinition, then our idea of the afterlife is bound to be similarly, and radically, redefined. 

James Cameron's Avatar, now in theaters, hypothesizes a method by which a human being could abandon a physical body for permanent life as a biological avatar.  Categorizing this as resurrection isn't entirely satisfying, since the personality is the same, but the body is completely different, and not even entirely constructed of human DNA.

Syfy Channel's new series Caprica, premiering last month, hypothesizes a method by which sophisticated biofeedback technology could instantiate sentience in virtual avatars, which could then be downloaded into cyborgs.  This also seems to fall somewhere in between resurrection and reincarnation, since the personality is the same, but then again, it is not, since it started life as an avatar.

If all that sounds way too fringe for you, not to worry.  Television is still offering conventional reincarnation stories.  Lifetime Channel has Drop Dead Diva, about a fashion model accidentally killed before her time and brought back to life as a hard-working and rather lonely lawyer who struggles with her weight.  She is, of course, surrounded by the people from her past life.  Season 2 launches in June.

And this spring FOX network is launching a new series called Past Life inspired by M.J. Rose's book The Reincarnationist.  While the network's promotional material makes the show sound very formulaic (true believer scientist female teamed with tormented skeptical male homicide detective to solve Cold Case Files using hypnosis and other psychic methods conveniently to hand), I say give it a chance.  After all, FOX has had a better track record than the other major networks when it comes to letting its original series find an audience.  Past Life previews this Tuesday, February 9, on FOX.


Beth Davies-Stofka teaches courses on comparative religion and the philosophy of religion. She has also been an online columnist and critic and contributes regularly to the Patheos site.

2/9/2010 5:00:00 AM
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    About Beth Davies-Stofka
    Beth Davies-Stofka teaches courses on comparative religion and the philosophy of religion. Her teaching and research focus in two areas: the challenges that violence and human suffering present to theological ethics, and explorations of philosophy and...