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Immaterial aspect or essence of a person, conjoined with the body during life and separable at death. The concept of a soul is found in nearly all cultures and religions, though the interpretations of its nature vary considerably. The ancient Egyptians conceived of a dual soul, one surviving death but remaining near the body, while the other proceeded to the realm of the dead. The early Hebrews did not consider the soul as distinct from the body, but later Jewish writers perceived the two as separate. Christian theology adopted the Greek concept of an immortal soul, adding the notion that God created the soul and infused it into the body at conception. In Islam the soul is believed to come into existence at the same time as the body but is everlasting and subject to eternal bliss or torment after the death of the body. In Hinduism each soul, or atman, was created at the beginning of time and imprisoned in an earthly body; at death the soul is said to pass to a new body according to the laws of karma. Buddhism negates the idea of a soul, asserting that any sense of an individual self is illusory.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on soul, visit Britannica.com.