The idea of the soul is variously understood around the world and throughout history.
A distinction is often made between an individual soul and a world soul (anima mundi).
Some regard the soul as a multiple entity, as in ancient Egyptian religion or the contemporary views of the alleged trance channeler, Jane Roberts/Seth. Others insist the soul is single. And yet some say the soul is the conceptual “I” that apparently remains constant throughout one’s life (itself a highly debatable claim).
Plato viewed the soul as single but containing multiple functions.
Aristotle saw the soul as a partly rational and partly irrational function governing bodily needs, desires and actions that disappears at death.
Soul is also envisioned as a spiritual, self-motivating eternal agent or substance.
St. Thomas Aquinas insists the soul is united to the body but not of the body. For Aquinas it “operates through corporeal organs” with its “proper function” being “in the understanding.”
In much of Hinduism the soul reincarnates, ultimately to merge with God, as a drop of water returns to the ocean from whence it came. In this sense, individuality is temporary, at best.
However, Ramanuja‘s Visistadvaita school of Hinduism provides an important exception to this idea. For Ramanuja, individual souls (jivas) emerge from and ultimately rest within God (Brahman) but retain some aspect of their individuality, existence and, therefore, reality.
The anatman doctrine of Buddhism contends that the idea of a soul is just a conceptual illusion; for Buddhists, the soul does not really exist.
Catholics believe that the soul is created by God at the moment of human conception, a view that has sparked intense debate among pro-life and pro-choice groups. Concerning death and the afterlife, traditional Catholic believers say the soul might (a) rise to heaven (b) be purified in purgatory in preparation for heaven or (c) descend to eternal hell.
In pop culture “soul” refers to a musical form, originating in America, that blends gospel music with rhythm and blues. Although soul music was created by black Americans, its offshoots are composed and performed by anyone, anywhere.