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  • The first book dedicated to near death experiences in indigenous societies

  • Offers a unique contribution to our understanding of near death experience and shamanic phenomena cross-culturally

  • Presents a new interdisciplinary theory of the origins and development of afterlife beliefs across cultures

  • Presents dozens of previously unrecognized accounts of near death experiences in societies from three continents

Table of Contents

Foreword by Allan Kellehear


I. Exploring Near-Death Experiences Across


II. North America

III. Africa

IV. Oceania

V. Interpretations, Implications, and Conclusions


Near-Death Experience in Indigenous Religions

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 award-winning 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.


"Gregory Shushan has produced the most important scholarly work on near-death experiences in the last thirty years.  He describes the process by which, despite regular attempts to marginalize its power, the NDE has been perhaps the most important shaper of religious creativity in human history. This is a journey and an argument as fascinating and as engrossing as the social history of mankind itself."

        -- From the foreword by Allan Kellehear, author of Experiences Near Death

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"Near-Death Experience in Indigenous Religions is a tour de force. By comparing recorded cases from North America, Africa, and Oceania, Shushan presents a compelling argument for the centrality of Near-Death Experiences to the development of religious ideas across time and culture. Any future discussions of NDEs and the origins of religion will need to take Shushan's major contribution into account."

                                                   -- Fiona Bowie, founding member of the Afterlife Research Center

"Gregory Shushan's new book provides a uniquely insightful and provocative analysis of near-death experiences that documents their formative influence on worldwide beliefs about an afterlife. His ethnological perspective results in a more comprehensive understanding of NDEs than a purely biological or psychological model can provide, and suggests that afterlife beliefs are rooted not in culture but in the universal human experience of NDEs. This book is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand NDEs and their role in society."

                    -- Bruce Greyson, Division of Perceptual Studies, University of Virginia.

"This is a remarkable survey of near death experiences gathered from reports across the world. Interested readers will be amazed at the data reported by the author in this erudite and intelligent inquiry."

                      -- Gavin Flood, Oxford University


"Shushan does an admirable job explaining the challenges of comparing exceptional experience, and demonstrates subtlety and nuance as he compares and contrasts Indigenous NDE in North America, Africa, and Oceania. Readers will be challenged by the breadth of methodological concerns Shushan examines, and by his careful thesis regarding how  we can study the power of NDE within the organization of cultural knowledge surrounding the fundamental human concern with the significance of death."
                         -- Mary L. Keller, University of Wyoming, Reading Religion.

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Next World
The Next World: Extraordinary Experiences of the Afterlife

In The Next World, historian of religions Gregory Shushan explores the relationships between extraordinary experiences and beliefs in life after death.  He first shows how throughout history and around the world, near-death experiences have influenced ideas about the afterlife.  Shushan also takes a deep dive into the problem of similarities and differences between NDE accounts.  Not only do they vary widely, but so does a culture’s way of responding to them and integrating them into their belief systems.

Shushan also compares NDEs with accounts of shamanic spirit journeys to afterlife realms, intermission states between reincarnations from people who remember past lives, and descriptions of otherworlds by souls of the dead communicating through mediums.  Accounts of all these phenomena bear striking similarities to NDEs, though also have important differences.  Examining them each in relation to the other results in a kind of reciprocal illumination, in which each type of extraordinary experience sheds light on the other.

Drawing on over two decades of research into cross-cultural afterlife beliefs and extraordinary experiences, The Next World presents not only an accessible overview of Shushan’s work, but also takes a bold new step in psychical research.  By combining ideas and methods from a variety of disciplines – archaeology, anthropology, sociology, and the study of religions – Shushan’s unique take on the issues leads to new understandings of them.  Unlike any of these disciplines, however, Shushan also crosses over into metaphysics, philosophy, and parapsychology, considering the implications of the cross-cultural data for the survival hypothesis: Are NDEs and other extraordinary experiences actually glimpses into another world and a taste of the true spiritual reality?  If so, what could this afterlife actually be like in light of all the diversity of accounts?





1.  Near-Death Experiences: Unpeeling the Universal, Cultural, and Individual Layers

2.  Revelations in Near-Death Experiences

3.  Near-Death Experiences in Early Civilizations

4.  Shamanism and Near-Death Experiences in the Indigenous Traditions of Oceania

5.  Next Worlds in Victorian and Edwardian Mediumship

6.  Between Lives: Reincarnation Intermission Memories

7.  What Kind of Afterlife?  Culture, Individual, and the Survival Hypothesis

Appendix I:  Extraordinary Experiences or Cultural Imagination: “All in the Brain” Revisited

Appendix II: The Near-Death Experience of Mrs. Leonora Piper




“This fine new book by Gregory Shushan encapsulates his decades of painstaking ethnohistorical research on Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) and various related phenomena, spanning a remarkable range of cultures and times. Strongly recommended!”

~ Edward F. Kelly, co-editor, Irreducible Mind, Beyond Physicalism, and Consciousness Unbound.

“Advances our understanding of NDEs and of our own nature as few other books have. This truly is a remarkable book.”

~ Bruce Greyson, M.D., author of After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal About Life and Beyond.

“Gregory Shushan is one of the brightest lights in the rising generation of scholars in psychical research.”

~ Alan Gauld, author of The Heyday of Mental Mediumship: 1880s – 1930s: Investigators, Mediums and Communicators.

“What a breathtaking tour of the expanse of human experience! It left me with a sense of wonder and admiration.”

~ Zofie Weaver, Society for Psychical Research; author, Other Realities? The Enigma of Franek Kluski’s Mediumship and A World in a Grain of Sand: The Clairvoyance of Stefan Ossowiecki.


“Both academically accurate and highly entertaining, a remarkable combination.

A brilliant book – fun to read!”

~ James McClenon, Ph.D, author, Wondrous Healing: Shamanism, Human Evolution, and the Origin of Religion and The Entity Letters: A Sociologist on the Trail of a Supernatural Mystery.

“The Next World draws together several decades of detailed cross-cultural research on phenomena such as Near-Death Experience, Shamanism, Mediumship, Reincarnation and the Afterlife. Shushan’s great strength is his interdisciplinarity and the depth of his scholarship, which makes this book outstanding in an otherwise crowded market. This is a genuinely original work, drawing on classics, history, archaeology, anthropology and the study of religion, as well as a thorough knowledge of parapsychology. It is also an extremely readable book, always balanced in tone and authoritative. The Next World is set to become a key item in the library of anyone seriously interested in religion and the big questions of individual survival and the purpose of life.  A good read and I was reluctant to put it down!”

~ Dr. Fiona Bowie Research Affiliate, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, Oxford University Member of Wolfson College Oxford, Author of the best-selling Anthropology of Religion.

NDEs in Ancient Civilizations
Near-Death Experience in
Ancient Civilizations

A cross-cultural comparison of ancient beliefs about death and the afterlife

Revealing the powerful influence of near-death experiences (NDEs) on religious beliefs and ritual practices throughout human history, Gregory Shushan, Ph.D., explores the ancient afterlife beliefs of five world regions: Egypt, Sumer and Mesopotamia, India, China, and Maya and Aztec Mesoamerica, revealing their similarities with NDEs and comparing them with each other.

• Reveals the powerful influence of near-death experiences (NDEs) on the formation of religious beliefs, mystical literature, and ritual practices

• Focuses on the afterlife beliefs of five ancient world regions: Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt, Sumer and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia, Vedic India, pre-Buddhist China, and Maya and Aztec Mesoamerica

• Shows how the similarities among afterlife beliefs and their correspondences with NDEs reveal that they both stem from universal truths

Taking readers on a thought-provoking journey into our ancestors’ beliefs about death, dying, and the afterlife, Gregory Shushan, Ph.D., reveals the powerful influence of near-death experiences (NDEs) on religious beliefs and ritual practices throughout human history. Focusing on five ancient world regions—Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt, Sumer and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia, Vedic India, pre-Buddhist China, and Maya and Aztec Mesoamerica—Shushan expertly explores each civilization’s afterlife beliefs, highlighting their similarities with NDEs and comparing them with each other. He explains how each of these civilizations developed independently of one another, with little or no cultural contact between them, yet there is a series of similarities between afterlife beliefs among these groups too consistent and specific to be mere coincidence. This leads to the profound implication that afterlife beliefs are not entirely invented by cultures: they also stem from universal truths derived from NDEs.

Drawing on anthropology, psychology, and philosophy, the author explores how each civilization interpreted NDEs to form their beliefs and presents a rich understanding of how afterlife beliefs develop over time. He also explores the metaphysical implications of his discoveries, including what an actual afterlife would look like based on cross-cultural similarities and differences.

Revealing that NDEs have occurred throughout human history, Shushan shows how they continue to influence our understanding of what lies beyond death to this day.

Preorder now

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Reviews of the First Edition


"...a fascinating journey through ancient ideas about the afterlife.... But this is not simply a historical mapping of these early concepts, the author brings them to life and makes them relevant to contemporary concerns about what has become known as near-death-experiences.... This is a bold and engaging book. The author does not shy away from difficult issues and lays down a challenge to postmodern relativism and the idea that all human experience is a cultural or social construct."   --  Prof. Gavin Flood. 

“…one of the most interesting and methodologically reflective examples of comparative work in the study of religions.” -- Michael Stausberg, The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion

"... a dense, rich, thought-provoking work that points at some interesting questions while making a good stab at proving the value of this type of comparative study. Even readers who don’t agree with all of Shushan’s conclusions will have to admire his willingness to mount a full-scale attack on some of the big questions, not only of the anthropology of religion, but of human existence in general.  9/10."  -- James Holloway, Fortean Times.

"Conceptions of Afterlife in Early Civilizations is a very well-written book by a consummate scholar.... Shushan's book is a major contribution to the field of comparative religion and near-death studies. It is a 'must-read' for students of religious experience." - Prof. Ken R. Vincent.

"This book represents a scholarly and well-argued study, and is a landmark in both the anthropological study of afterlife conceptions and in research into NDEs. I recommend it highly, and I eagerly await its sequel, which according to reports in the blogosphere is now under way as a study of NDEs in relation to afterlife beliefs in worldwide shamanic and small-scale societies." - Dr. David Rousseau

"There are numerous positive reasons to read this book... Certainly in the area of 'near-death studies', Shushan's work is original, well argued, and much needed... The historical, theoretical, and ethnographic orientation of Shushan's work is a wonderful contribution to this important area.... [and] a valuable and important addition to the literature in religious consciousness studies, and the sociology of death and dying." - Prof. Allan Kellehear.

Mind Dust
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Mind Dust and White Crows:

The Psychical Research of William James

“If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, you mustn’t seek to show that no crows are; it is enough if you prove one single crow to be white.”


William James (1842–1910) was a leading figure in Western psychology, philosophy, and psychical research. While there is an inextricable relationship between the various strands of James’s work, his psychical research has been unfairly neglected in favor of classics such as The Principles of Psychology and The Varieties of Religious Experience. Read in light of one another, however, James’s “mainstream” writings can be seen as efforts to make philosophical, metaphysical, and psychological sense of his psychical research.


Mind Dust and White Crows bridges the illusory divide, placing James’s widely accepted works on mystical experience, theories of the soul, immortality, and metaphysics alongside his key writings on mediumship, telepathy, possession and other areas of psychical research. The result is a more integrated picture of James’s spiritually-minded writings, transcending the disciplinary stigmas so often imposed on them. Interestingly, some of James’s ideas seem to align with current interpretations of the soul and extended consciousness as derived from quantum physics. 


This volume includes many rare articles, including material that has not been previously published in book form. Andreas Sommer’s introduction – written especially for this volume – highlights the importance of James’s work to the history and development of psychical research. 


“This book is a valuable addition to the literature of psychical research…. It should be on the bookshelf of every serious researcher into the literature of psychical research.” -- Journal of Scientific Exploration.


"James was well ahead of the times in his efforts to reconcile science and spirituality….We are reminded, the author says, 'that yesterday’s psychical research is often tomorrow’s mainstream science.' This book should be appreciated by any open-minded reader."  Michael E. Tymn


"It’s quite a project to collect and reflect on writings on a theme often ignored because of associated discomfort in the work of such a key figure of western philosophical psychology. GregoryShushan has made a significant contribution to the critical appreciation of William James." – Wendy Dossett, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies University of Chester


“The brilliant introduction by Andreas Sommer and Shushan’s scholarly edition of James’s writings on psychical research is a wonderful contribution to the field.” -- Kenneth Joholske

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