Although anything having to do with DEATH may be a subject about which we try not to think too much or often, I felt attracted by this book because it offers a global sociological framework for understanding how we human beings have faced Near Death Experiences in the last few decades so I decided it to give it a chance, in despite of not finding previous comments on it.
The summary provided by the "Book description" is fairly accurate, therefore, I will only point out that the central question the author is posing in this book is: what does the Near-Death Experience (and the community and the academic reactions to it) look like in various contexts? Kellehear has attempted (and, as far as I am concerned, he has achieved with this book) to break away from the polarized and restricted parameters of religious or medical debates, because he believes the Near-Death Experience is more significant than an interesting footnote in the medical literature and far more important socially than its possible value as evidence for life after death.
All that and much more is developed in 189 pages (plus bibliography), the book being divided in the following parts and chapters: THE NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE: Undoing the stereotypes. 1.- Popular images of the Near-Death Experience. 2.- Near-Death Experiences across Cultures. 3.- Unusual Circumstances, Unusual Experiences.// THE COMMUNITY REACTION: From Fear to Eternity. 4.- Community Reactions. 5.- Some Rhyme and Reasons. 6.- In Pursuit of the Ideal Society.//THE ACADEMIC REACTION: The Politics of Dismissal and apathy. 7.- The Rhetoric of Neuroscience. 8.- Psychoanalyzing a Rabbit Near Death. 9.- Crisis and Meaning//APPENDIX: On Theory and Method.
The book is no very engaging, but it is not dry either. In my opinion is a masterful work which can be savoured by the professional historian and by the educated layperson too. Therefore, my rate is between 5 (content) and 3 (pleasure, sometimes falling to 2, sometimes raising to 4).
Other book that I would recommend to read, more or less related to the matter, would be "A Social History of Dying", also by Allan Kellehear; How we die" by S.B. Nuland ,"The loneliness of Dying" by Norbert Elias and chapter 11th of "The Waning of the Middle Ages" by Johan Huizinga.
Additionally, as a complement to " Experiences Near Death: Beyond Medicine and Religion", I would also suggest reading the following works, whose scope is as amazingly global as Kellehear's: 1. Agrarian cultures: "Pre-industrial societies" by Patricia Crone; 2. Economy: "The world economy. A millennial perspective" (2001) plus "The world economy: Historical Statistics" (2003) by Angus Maddison (a combined edition of these two volumes is to appear on December 2007); 3. Government: "The History of Government" by S.E. Finer; 4 Ideas: "Ideas, a History from Fire to Freud", by Peter Watson; 5. Religion: "The Phenomenon of Religion: A Thematic Approach" by Moojan Momen; and 6. War: "War in Human Civilization" by Azar Gat.
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He wrote in the Preface to this 1996 book, "This book is a study of the near-death experience (NDE)... I believe it is valuable to enable the idea of 'experiences' to encompass issues beyond the endlessly described features of the NDE... ALL experiences near death---euthanasia, abortion, NDEs, or ghosts---expose important divisions, anxieties, and uncertainties in any community. The NDE should be viewed against this complex and controversial background of experience... the central question I am posing in this book is: what does the NDE, and the community and academic reactions to it, look like in various contexts?" (Pg. vii)
He states early in the book, "The NDE is not a single, monolithic entity always associated with death. It has been stereotyped well beyond the recognition of early observers such as Raymond Moody ] and Ken Ring ]. What began as a broad description of emotional content and cognitive images near death has become another set of stages or staged images near death." (Pg. 5) He observes, "The Non-Western NDEs vary in different ways from the Western NDE allegedly rising from medical resuscitation. In the foregoing account, note... There is no tunnel or out-of-body experience. There does not appear to be any review of one's life. There is a notable absence of a living being of light..." (Pg. 8)
He states, "the features of the NDE have little to do with being clinically dead. Simply being in physical danger, but in good health and consciously aware, is enough to elicit many of these experiences." (Pg. 11) Considering alternative views for NDEs, he says, "When oxygen deprivation does not appear to be an appropriate hypothesis, a theory of endorphin action is propounded... Although endorphins are occasionally thought to do more than produce analgesia, it is rare to observe runners experiencing life review, tunnel sensation, and meetings with deceased relatives." (Pg. 121) On the other hand, "The similarity of childhood NDEs to adult versions does not suggest that cultural conditioning is unimportant. Rather, it can just as readily be interpreted as evidence that such conditioning occurs rather early." (Pg. 153)
He cautions, "it must be remembered that the full image of the NDE is an artifact of the composite picture put together by Moody and repeated endlessly in the NDE literature. Few people actually experience all of these images." (Pg. 162)
He explains, "I have not foreclosed on the possibility of life after death (or on neuroscientific explanations, for that matter) because my own sociological explanations are not reductionist ones... The question of life after death is one for religion, philosophy, and psychic research... That question has never been one of the declared objects of study for sociology." (Pg. 178)
This perspective will be of interest to those studying NDEs; particularly those interested in their explanation and meaning.
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