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Death-Related Experiences
Record Type: Review   ID: 452

Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times

Zaleski, Carol

 This work began as a doctoral dissertation in the study of religion at Harvard University. It is concerned with near-death experiences (NDEs), which Zaleski views as a form of otherworld journey tales. Her purpose is to examine accounts of NDEs in two widely separated settings: medieval Christendom and modern society, in the hope that "comparative study will highlight features that are not otherwise obvious, putting into sharper relief the elements that are culturally specific and at the same time drawing attention to perennial aspects of otherworld journey narration. It will disclose some of the ways in which the otherworld journey is shaped by the social and historical situation in which it occurs" (p. 6). In four parts, the first provides an overview of the otherworld journey as it appears in the world's religious traditions. Emphasis is placed in Part 2 on the medieval return-from-death story and considers it within its cultural context. The third part considers the modern near-death narrative, and compares it with the medieval vision. Part 4 offers an interpretation of NDEs, including verification, explanations, and counterexplanations, and an evaluation of near-death testimony. She concludes that "within the limits here discussed we are able to grant the validity of near-death testimony as one way in which the religious imagination mediates the search for ultimate truth" (p. 205). A "Chronological Table for Medieval Christian Otherworld Journey Literature" is given in an appendix.
Publisher Information:New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. 275p. Bibl: 248-266; Chap notes; Ind: 267-275; 1 table
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