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When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  42 ratings  ·  9 reviews
The idea of the pre-existence of the soul has been extremely important, widespread, and persistent throughout Western history--from even before the philosophy of Plato to the poetry of Robert Frost. When Souls Had Wings offers the first systematic history of this little explored feature of Western culture.
Terryl Givens describes the tradition of pre-existence as "pre-hea
Hardcover, 388 pages
Published October 8th 2009 by Oxford University Press, USA
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Terryl L. Givens’s WHEN ANGELS HAD WINGS: PRE-MORTAL EXISTENCE IN WESTERN THOUGHT is, as the subtitle indicates, a history of the idea of the pre-existence from Mesopotamian myth through the present.

Givens spends a lot of time discussing Plato, whose ideas on the pre-existence were highly influential for more than two millennia, and the Church Fathers. He discusses many other major thinkers in philosophy, religion and literature but also many relatively minor figures.

A major motivation for writi
Ah! Another opportunity to rhapsodize about the brilliance and the incredible mind of Terryl Givens. The breadth of this work is staggering; the synthesis of 3000 years of ideas is so well done that it walks the fine line between unreadability and oversimplification.

I give it four stars because of its approach. Nothing incredibly wrong, but I would expect a work on Western thought to take into account more than religious essay, philosophy, and letters. Givens's acknowledges this lacuna, and give
In this book Givens aims to “elaborate an entire series of motivations and purposes behind an idea that has flourished well outside and beyond the early Christian contexts” (5). It's been used by poets to account for feelings of resonance or familiarity with ideas, places or people they had never met in life before. It’s been used by philosophers to find an ultimate ground of existence or meaningful human free will. It’s been used by theologians to reconcile what seems like an unjust world with ...more
Very enlightening (though not entertaining). This book is a history of the concept of preexistence (the concept that souls were created and lived in an existence separate from their earthly existence). Givens starts with Mesopotamian traditions which show the earliest evidence of this idea. He traces it through the ages, citing philosophers, poetry, works of fiction, and religious scholars. Even early Christian fathers believed in the concept, but as orthodoxy set in, the concept was squelched. ...more
Stephen Cranney
I really, really wanted to like this book. I'm a big Terryl Givens fan and I like what seems to be his project of seeing Mormonism in terms of the big cosmological questions that it addresses and not the cultural ephemera that it is often defined by. Givens' Mormonism is so much grander than the cultural affiliates' Mormonism.

However, it was difficult for me to sit still during a history that basically covers the exact same point from slightly different perspectives over and over again, so I mu
This is certainly Givens's most academic book, so it is a little dry, but it contains a lot of fascinating information on the idea of pre-mortal existence in western thought. Interestingly enough, the Mormon doctrine of pre-mortal life follows in this tradition, but deviates from it in many important and interesting ways. This is a fine book and a meaningful addition to my library.
Susan Jones
I really, really wanted to like this book. I like the author. I like the subject. But it read to much like a textbook. I just had too hard a time following.
Terry Earley
To be honest, I got a little -more than a little, bogged down with this one. I certainly enjoy reading Givens, but i was not his audience here.

Skim it, and and enjoy some treasures. Some chapters are better than those with way too much detail.
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Terryl L. Givens was born in upstate New York, raised in the American southwest, and did his graduate work in Intellectual History (Cornell) and Comparative Literature (Ph.D. UNC Chapel Hill, 1988), working with Greek, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and English languages and literatures. As Professor of Literature and Religion, and the James A. Bostwick Professor of English at the University of Rich ...more
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