Near-Death Experience in Indigenous Religions

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Gregory Shushan
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , August
     2018.
     304 pages.
     $99.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780190872472.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Mary Louise Keller forthcoming.

Description

Near-death experiences are known around the world and throughout human history. They are sometimes reported by individuals who have revived from a period of clinical death or near-death and they typically feature sensations of leaving the body, entering and emerging from darkness, meeting deceased friends and relatives, encountering beings of light, judgment of one's earthly life, feelings of oneness, and reaching barriers, only to return to the body. Those who have NDEs almost invariably understand them as having profound spiritual or religious significance.

In this book, Gregory Shushan explores the relationship between NDEs, shamanism, and beliefs about the afterlife in traditional indigenous societies in Africa, North America, and Oceania. Drawing on historical accounts of the earliest encounters with explorers, missionaries, and ethnologists, this study addresses questions such as: Do ideas about the afterlife commonly originate in NDEs? What role does culture play in how people experience and interpret NDEs? How can we account for cross-cultural similarities and differences between afterlife beliefs? Though NDEs are universal, Shushan shows that how they are actually experienced and interpreted varies by region and culture. In North America, they were commonly valorized, and attempts were made to replicate them through shamanic rituals. In Africa, however, they were largely considered aberrational events with links to possession or sorcery. In Oceania, Micronesia corresponded more to the African model, while Australia had a greater focus on afterlife journey shamanism, and Polynesia and Melanesia showed an almost casual acceptance of the phenomenon as reflected in numerous myths, legends, and historical accounts. 

This study examines the continuum of similarities and differences between NDEs, shamanism, and afterlife beliefs in dozens of cultures throughout these regions. In the process, it makes a valuable contribution to our knowledge about the origins of afterlife beliefs around the world and the significance of related experiences in human history.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Gregory Shushan is Honorary Research Fellow at the Religious Experience Research Centre, University of Wales Trinity Saint David. He is the author of Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations and has been Research Fellow at Oxford University's Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion and at the Centro Incontri Umani at Ascona, Switzerland.

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