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.
In this book 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?