Reexamining Near-Death and Other Experiences of the Beyond in Cultural Perspective

Jeffery L MacDonald (Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization)

Reexamining Near-Death and Other Experiences of the Beyond in Cultural Perspective: Implications for the Anthropology of Consciousness

Since the birth of anthropology, human experiences of deathbed visions, ghosts and visions of the beyond have been cited as the origin of human belief in the supernatural. More recently those who have had near-death experiences (NDE’s) have reported that their belief systems have been transcendently altered or reinforced to include life after death. In previous works (MacDonald 1983, 1989, 2000) I examined medical and psychological research claims that the NDE is a universal phenomenon by utilizing cross-cultural evidence for universality both in terms of modern studies and the ethnographic literature. In particular I have compared the elements of NDE’s and death bed visions to ethnographic and folkloric accounts of Orphic journeys to the land of the dead and shamanic states of consciousness. In this paper I expand this work to examine neuroscience approaches to NDEs, death bed visions and recent paranormal research on ghosts versus how experiencers describe and interpret these experiences. Finally, I discuss the implications of such extra-ordinary human experience and its neuroscientific interpretations for the anthropology of consciousness in terms of the brain-consciousness-culture relationship.   [Originally Published in the AAA 2013 Conference Program]