Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Cover story: "Heaven Can Wait"

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.

Pasulka's new book is Heaven Can Wait: Purgatory in Catholic Devotional and Popular Culture.

Here she explains the connection of the book's cover to the pages within:
Heaven Can Wait is my first book and I felt a keen obligation to choose a cover that would convey the variety of meanings that I felt were important in my research. Of course, this is almost an impossible task, but I believe I accomplished it by choosing the painting by seventeenth century Peruvian Incan artist Diego Quispe Tito. His style influenced an artistic movement called the Cusco School (Escuela Cuzqueña). His work incorporated indigenous symbols and signs with European Catholic elements. More than anything his work portrays a sensual and almost tactile view of the afterlife. I was immediately drawn to the painting because it covered the spectrum of what people believed about purgatory for hundreds of years. The Virgin Mary, who was at one time considered “The Queen of Purgatory,” is represented here as a compassionate liberator of suffering souls, pictured below her, rising from flames.

My book asks the question “What happened to the Catholic doctrine of purgatory?” The doctrine and its devotions were a central aspect of Catholic practice for hundreds of years, and today representations of purgatory are more likely to be found in video games and in movies than in a local Catholic church. The story I uncover reveals a long trend to disassociate purgatory from its most physical or material representations. When clerics discuss purgatory today it is referred to as a “condition” and not a place. Yet its most popular representations, as portrayed by Tito’s painting, reveal a different story, rich in sensory data, and beautiful to behold.
Learn more about Heaven Can Wait at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Heaven Can Wait.

--Marshal Zeringue