Experiences Near Death: Beyond Medicine And Religion
- Publish Date: 1996-01-04
- Binding: Hardcover
- Author: Allan Kellehear
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A person is seriously ill or involved in an accident and their heart stops beating; for a brief time they are clinically dead. Once revived, the victim has a remarkable tale to relate: typical narratives include feelings of great peace, out-of-body travel, tunnel sensations, life review, and bright lights. These phenomena, often referred to as near-death experiences, have spawned an entire pop industry dedicated to plumbing the depths of their mysteries, and they continue to inspire heated debate and raise fascinating questions about the nature of life and death. But most observers assume that there are only two ways to interpret the near-death experience: in the religious terms of life after death, or in the medical terms of the mechanics of the brain.
In Experiences Near Death, however, Allan Kellehear presents a revolutionary new approach to the field of near-death studies, one that examines these episodes as they relate to the specific cultures from which they arise, helping us to understand what these visions are as a cultural and psychological response and why they occur. Kellehear compares near-death experiences from all over the world--India, China, Guam, America, Australia, and New Zealand--revealing not only the similarities among them, but also the pertinent differences that can tell us much about the way people from different cultures view their world. He recounts, for example, a near-death experience from Guam where people fly through the clouds to make invisible visits to living relatives; he compares experiences from hunter-gatherer societies to urban American ones; and in a fascinating discussion of the bestselling children's story The Velveteen Rabbit, Kellehear examines its remarkable similarities to the Western near-death experience. He concludes that these visions are brought on by a profound experience of crisis, and are similar to visions brought on by other trauma such as bereavement, being lost at sea, or trapped in a mine. People who have lived through these events, Kellehear notes, often see visions which are identical to those encountered during near-death experiences. Indeed, he finds that the near-death experience is a common reaction to a deep sense of separation from others, and he includes it within a much larger group of human experiences. In addition, Kellehear provides an extensive look at community reactions to near-death experiences, and he also offers an indepth examination of much supposedly unbiased academic research into NDE. (In one eye-opening chapter, for instance, he reveals some of the controversial reasons why neuroscience writers try so hard to have their theories accepted by the public).
The near-death experience continues to attract the attention of the popular press, but there have been few serious studies of this often contentious subject. Now, in Experiences Near Death, Kellehear uncovers intriguing evidence that sheds new light on a phenomenon that has fascinated and mystified us all. These experiences force us to reflect on issues of personal significance (like hope and happiness) and show us how the many different perceptions of the near-death experience have become relevant to the anxieties and questions of our times.