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Joanne Pierce


Religious Studies Department

Ph.D., University of Notre Dame


Fields: liturgical studies, medieval Christianity, ritual studies, ecumenical theology, theology and speculative/science fiction 

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Office Phone: 508-793-3452
Office: Smith 423
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The Conversation

Joanne Pierce is a frequent contributor to The Conversation, an independent news and commentary website. Her most recent contributions appear below.

Illustration of Dante's Paradiso. Giovanni di Paolo

When a family member or a friend passes away, we often find ourselves reflecting on the question “where are they now?” As mortal beings, it is a question of ultimate significance to each of us.

Different cultural groups, and different individuals within them, respond with numerous, often conflicting, answers to questions about life after death. For many, these questions are rooted in the idea of reward for the good (a heaven) and punishment for the wicked (a hell), where earthly injustices are finally righted.

However, t...

The abyss of hell. Sandro Botticelli.

The recent dispute over whether Pope Francis denied the existence of hell in an interview attracted wide attention. This isn’t surprising, since the belief in an afterlife, where the virtuous are rewarded with a place in heaven and the wicked are punished in hell, is a core teaching of Christianity.

So what is the Christian idea of hell?

Origins of belief in hell

The Christian belief in hell has developed over the centuries, influenced by both Jewish and Greek ideas ...

Pope Francis talks with bishops during the Liturgical Week at the Vatican in August 2017. AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis

Pope Francis has changed Catholic Canon law – and met with some intense reactions.

At stake here is the language used for the Mass and the question of who has the responsibility for translating the Catholic liturgy into regional languages.

So why should this issue be so very controversial in the 21st century?

Early history

As a specialist in liturgical studies, I can say that, until the end of th...