BOOK CHAPTERS

‘The afterlife in early civilizations.’  In Yujin Nagasawa & Benjamin Matheson (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of the Afterlife. London: Palgrave Macmillan. (2017). Invited contribution.

 

‘Near-death experience.’ In Christopher Moreman (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Death and Dying.  London: Routledge (2017).  Invited contribution.

‘The Afterlife in Early Civilizations.’  In Yujin Nagasawa & Benjamin Matheson (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of the Afterlife.  London: Palgrave Macmillan  (2017). 

This article reviews afterlife beliefs as found in the texts of the world’s earliest civilizations: Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt, Sumerian and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia, Vedic India, pre-Buddhist China, and Maya and Aztec Mesoamerica.  Despite the fact that these civilizations had little or no cultural contact with the others during these periods, there are a number of similarities between their afterlife beliefs.  As well as presenting overviews of beliefs in each civilization, this chapter discusses ways of understanding the reasons for these similarities by reference to certain universal factors (cognitive psychology and near-death experience); and of understanding the differences by reference to various culture-specific factors (social structure, environment, and wider religious/ritual contexts). 

‘Near-Death Experience.’  In Christopher Moreman (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Death and Dying.  London: Routledge  (2017).  

An overview of NDEs, exploring the following topics:

  • Phenomenology of NDEs

  • NDEs, Science, and Survival After Death

  • NDEs, History, and Culture

  • Philosophy, Religion, and NDEs

‘Cultural-Linguistic Constructivism and the Challenge of Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experience.’  In Bettina Schmidt (ed.) The Study of Religious Experience: Approaches and Methodologies.  London: Equinox (2016). 

Documentary accounts of near-death and out-of-body experiences are found in a variety of texts around the world: in religious literature, historical documents, and reports of ethnographers, missionaries and explorers.  Despite local differences, there is an essential thematic and structural continuity to the accounts cross-culturally.  NDEs also have a cross-culturally stable physical context (the individual is near death), and basic interpretation (what happens when we die).  Because beliefs in souls and life after death are commonly considered ‘religious,’ this has important implications for currently dominating postmodernist-influenced paradigms which state that because all religions are culturally unique and all experience is culturally-linguistically generated, there can be no such thing as a pan-human ‘religious experience’ type.

 

JOURNAL ARTICLES

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‘“The Sun Told me I Would be Restored to Life”: Native American Near-Death Experiences, Shamanism, and Religious Revitalization Movements.’  Journal of Near-Death Studies vol. 34 no. 3 (Spring 2016).

Near-death experiences were commonly the basis for Native American afterlife beliefs, as can be seen in numerous ethnohistorical documentary accounts spanning the continent. They played a key role in responding to Christian missionary teachings and in negotiating cultural-political threats from European dominance. According to indigenous testimony, whole religious movements originated in NDEs, some of which rejected Christianity or incorporated elements of it. Although religious revitalization movements such as the Ghost Dance have long been studied from sociological and political approaches, the NDE dimension has been widely ignored despite its centrality to them. In an examination of some 25 cases, I redress this omission by demonstrating that Native American religious revitalization movements— and indeed afterlife beliefs per se— can be fully understood only by taking NDEs into account alongside socio-political factors.

"Gregory Shushan...brought his considerable experience as a scholar of near-death experiences in the origins of religion to a specific focus on Native American NDEs.... His article is rich in both case descriptions and ethnohistorical analysis" 

-- Jan Holden, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Near-Death Studies and co-author of The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation.

‘Afterlife Conceptions in the Vedas.’  Religion Compass. vol. 5 no. 6 (June 2011).  Wiley-Blackwell. 

Continuity and change in ancient Indian afterlife conceptions are discussed in a broad overview of the most relevant Vedic texts (the
 Rig Veda, the Krishna Yajur Veda, the Atharva Veda, the Shatapatha Brahmana, the Jaiminiya Brahmana and the Upanishads).  Despite the introduction of (or re-emphasis on) certain ideas, such as reincarnation and moksha (liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth), there is also continuity of a core set of conceptions from the earliest texts to the latest.  Return-from-death narratives are also found in each textual strand, and are discussed separately in the context of near-death experiences.

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‘“He Should Stay in the Grave”: Cultural Patterns in the Interpretation of Near-Death Experiences in Indigenous African Religions.”  Journal of Near-Death Studies vol. 35 no.4 (Summer 2018).

A wide-ranging survey of ethnographic, explorer, and missionary

literature demonstrates that although historical accounts of near-death experiences are attested in indigenous African societies, they are comparatively rare. Correspondingly, there is also a scarcity of mythological narratives of journeys to afterlife realms and a comparative lack of concern with afterlife speculation per se. Instead, the literature reveals that many African peoples had marked concerns about potentially malevolent influences of ancestral spirits,

shamanistic focus on spirit possession and sorcery, and precipitous burial practices limiting the occurrence of NDEs. NDEs were sometimes seen as aberrational, suggesting that individuals would have been reluctant to relate them. In such cultural environments, NDEs could scarcely have played a significant role in contributing to afterlife conceptions.

"Gregory Shushan, PhD, scholar of NDEs in antiquity, provides a tour de force survey of central and south African NDEs reported in the historical literature between the mid-1600s and mid-1900s." 

-- Jan Holden, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Near-Death Studies and co-author of The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation.

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‘Greek and Egyptian Dreams in two Ptolemaic archives: Individual and Cultural Layers of meaning.’  In Dreaming: Journal of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (American Psychological Association). June 2006, Vol. 16(2).

A cultural comparison is made of dreams in the archives of an Egyptian (Hor) and a Greek (Ptolemaios) in second-century BCE Egypt. The content of the dreams is discussed with reference to actual events in the lives of the dreamers as known from their archives and to ancient Greek and Egyptian dream books. The possible social phenomena which might account for differences and similarities between the dreams are discussed. It is found that the dreams in Hor’s archive generally reveal a stronger cultural layer with a deep immersion in a specifically Egyptian environment. In contrast, those in Ptolemaios’ archive generally have a stronger individual layer and are more concerned with personal struggles reflecting social and economic factors.

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‘Extraordinary experiences and religious beliefs: deconstructing some contemporary philosophical axioms.’  Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, vol. 26 (2014).

Many contemporary scholars believe that all experience is dependent upon language and culture, meaning that it is unintelligible to speak of some cross-cultural event which can be called “mystical” or “religious”; and that the notion of the origins of religious beliefs lying in such experiences is thus methodologically and theoretically unsound. Challenges to these perspectives leave one open to charges of naivety, or of having crossed a boundary from the (ostensibly) objective Study of Religions into a kind of universalist crypto-theology. In defense of the study of such experiences, this article attempts to demonstrate the weaknesses in these arguments by showing that they are based upon a number of mutually-reliant but unproven culturally-situated philosophical axioms. With particular reference to near-death and out-of-body experiences, a reflexive, theoretically eclectic approach to this area of study is suggested.

‘Rehabilitating the Neglected “Similar”: Confronting the Issue of Cross-Cultural Similarities in the Study of Religions’. In Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal Vol. 4 No. 2 (Spring 2013).

The concept of ‘similarity’ in the cross-cultural study of religions needs to be disentangled from criticisms of comparison in general. While many such criticisms have been valid, they tend to conflate the act of comparison with the search for similarities, just as they conflate both ‘comparison’ and ‘similarity’ with particular theoretical orientations/agendas (e.g. evolutionism, universalism, diffusionism). The concept of ‘difference’ is no more or less theoretically or methodologically neutral than the concepts of similarity or comparison. The theory of similarities being entirely subjective is untenable, meaning that denying the existence of similarities in comparative studies is irresponsible scholarship. 

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Dr. Shushan is available for lectures, documentary film work, interviews, research, and other projects worldwide. 

  He is currently based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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© 2018 Gregory Shushan

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