A University of California, Riverside philosophy professor, John Martin Fischer, has been awarded a three-year, $5 million grant by the John Templeton Foundation to study just this topic—and yes, students can take his class.
Fischer noted in an email, "Both I and my post-doc, Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin, will teach related classes over the next three years. I have frequently taught classes on death, immortality, and the meaning of life both at Yale University and UC Riverside."
So what's the meaning of life? More on that in a moment.
Fischer noted, "We'll be open both to studying religious and non-religious views about immortality. One thing that we'll study is whether human beings would want to live forever: would it be boring? Would it lose its meaning and beauty and urgency? Does death give meaning to life?"
According to the university's website announcing ( http://www.philosophy.ucr.edu/news/2012/index.html ) the grant award, many anecdotal reports of the afterlife abound, but there has been "no comprehensive and rigorous, scientific study of global reports about near-death and other experiences, or of how belief in immortality influences human behavior." The research will look at a range of phenomena, including heaven, hell, purgatory, and karma. The grant is the largest ever awarded to a humanities professor at UC Riverside, and one of the largest given to an individual at the university ( via news.yahoo.com ).
Fischer said in a statement, "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. "Our approach will be uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous. We're not going to spend money to study alien-abduction reports."
The grant will also fund two conferences to discuss the findings. Said UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White, Fischer's research "takes a universal concern and subjects it to rigorous examination to sift fact from fiction."
The Immortality Project, as it is called, will solicit research proposals from eminent scientists, philosophers and theologians whose work "will be reviewed by respected leaders in their fields and published in academic and popular journals."