The University of California, Riverside (UCR) has received a $5 million grant to study the afterlife.
The money will fund research into heaven, hell, purgatory, karma and other topics, according to the university's web site. The three-year grant has specifically gone to John Martin Fischer, distinguished UCR professor of philosophy. Fischer will start The Immortality Project, which will organize two conferences and a website with resources and links to published research on issues of immortality.
“We will be very careful in documenting near-death experiences and other phenomena, trying to figure out if these offer plausible glimpses of an afterlife or are biologically induced illusions,” Fischer said in a statement. “Our approach will be uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous. We’re not going to spend money to study alien-abduction reports."
Fischer also said there is a "deep human need to figure out what happens to us after death" and that there have been many reports of near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences and past lives. “Much of the discussion has been in literature, especially in fantasy and science fiction, and in theology," he commented. "No one has taken a comprehensive and sustained look at immortality that brings together the science, theology and philosophy.”
The Immortality Project will collect and review research proposals from scientists, philosophers and theologians to be published in academic journals.
Fischer adds that, even without a glimpse into the afterlife, he hopes to learn about cultures and values with this research. For example, why do millions of Americans report seeing a tunnel with a bright light at the end of it before death while, in Japan, reports often find the individual tending a garden?
The project will ask other questions, such as, "Would existence in an afterlife be repetitive or boring?," "Does death give meaning to life?" and "Could we still have virtues like courage if we knew we couldn’t die?"
The grant is the largest ever awarded to a humanities professor at UCR and one of the largest given to an individual at UCR, according to the university. It came from the John Templeton Foundation, which funds research into topics such as complexity, evolution, infinity, creativity, forgiveness, love and free will.
At the end of the three years, Fischer will write the project findings into a book with the working title “Immortality and the Meaning of Death,” slated for publication by Oxford University Press.
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