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The Near-death experience is a personal experience reported by people who have come close to dying in a medical or non-medical setting. The phenomenon is considered to be a fairly common occurrence in modern clinical settings (Lukoff, Lu & Turner, 1998) and according to a Gallup poll aproxiomately eight million americans claim to have had a near-death experience (Mauro, 1992). The experience of a close encounter with death is found to include such factors as: subjective impressions of being outside the physical body, visions of deceased relatives, visions of religious figures or beings of light, transcendence of ego and spatiotemporal boundaries, the sense of moving up or through a narrow passageway (Tunnel experience), life review, and other transcendental experiences (Lukoff, Lu & Turner, 1998; Greyson, 2003; Mauro, 1992). The phenomenology of a NDE usually includes physiological, psychological and transcendental factors that come together to form an overall pattern when numerous NDE reports are considered together. It is this pattern that is one of the main objects of interest for Near-Death studies. NDE-researchers have also found that the NDE is not a uniquely western experience. The core experience seems to be similar across cultures, but the content of the experience (figures, beings, scenery), and the interpretation of the experience, varies a lot from culture to culture (Mauro, 1992).
The interest in this field of study was originally spurred by the research of such pioneers as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, George Ritchie, and Raymond Moody Jr. Moody's book "Life after Life", which was released in 1975, brought a lot of attention to the topic of Near-Death Experiences (Mauro, 1992). This was soon to be followed by the establishment of the International Association for Near-death Studies, also known as IANDS. IANDS was founded in Connecticut (US) in 1978 in order to meet the needs of early researchers and experiencers within this field of research. Today the association includes researchers, health care professionals, NDE-experiencers and people close to experiencers, as well as other interested people. One of its main goals is to promote responsible and multi-disciplinary investigation of near-death and similar experiences. The organization is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization (IANDS, printable brochure).
IANDS is also responsible for the publishing of the Journal of Near-Death Studies, the only scholarly journal in the field. It is cross-disciplinary and published quarterly. Between the years of 1997-2003 the journal was published by Kluwer Academic Publishers, but this arrangement was discontinued upon completion of Volume 21. Since 2003 the Journal is published by The International Association for Near-Death Studies, printed and distributed by Allen Press. IANDS also publishes the newsletter Vital Signs and maintains an archive of near-death case histories for research and study.
Later researcers, such as Bruce Greyson, Kenneth Ring and Michael Sabom, introduced the study of Near-Death experiences to the academical setting. The medical community has been somewhat reluctant to address the phenomenon of NDE's and grant money for research has been scarce (Mauro, 1992). However, although the research was not always welcomed by the general academic community, both Greyson and Ring made significant contributions in order to increase the respectability of Near-Death research (IANDS, printable brochure). Major contributions to the field include the construction of a Weighted Core Experience Index (Ring, 1980) in order to measure the depth of the Near-Death experience, and the construction of the Near-death experience scale (Greyson, 1983) in order to differentiate between subjects that are more or less likely to have experienced a classical NDE. The NDE-scale also aims to differentiate between a true NDE and syndromes or stress responses that are not related to a NDE. Greysons NDE-scale was later found to fit the Rasch rating scale model (Lange, Greyson & Houran, 2004).
Greyson (1997) has also brought attention to the near-death experience as a focus of clinical attention, while Morse et.al (1985; 1986) have investigated Near-death experiences in a pediatric population. Ring has found that a typical set of values and belief changes often accompany the life of Near-Death experiencers. Among these after-effects we find changes in personality and outlook on life such as a greater appreciation for life, higher self-esteem, greater compassion for others, a heightened sense of purpose and self-understanding, desire to learn, elevated spirituality, greater ecological sensitivity and planetary concern, a feeling of being more intuitive (sometimes psychic), increased physical sensitivity, diminished tolerance to light/alcohol/drugs, a feeling that the brain has been "altered" to encompass more, a feeling that one is now using the "whole brain" rather than just a small part (Mauro, 1992).
- Greyson, Bruce (1983) The near-death experience scale. Construction, reliability, and validity. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Jun;171(6):369-75.
- Greyson, Bruce (1997) The near-death experience as a focus of clinical attention. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, May;185(5):327-34.
- Greyson, Bruce (2003) Near-Death Experiences in a Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic Population. Psychiatric Services, Dec., Vol. 54 No. 12. The American Psychiatric Association
- IANDS. IANDS: The International Association for Near-Death Studies. Printable Brochure. Available at www.iands.org
- Lange R, Greyson B, Houran J. (2004) A Rasch scaling validation of a 'core' near-death experience. British Journal of Psychology. Volume: 95 Part: 2 Page: 161-177
- Lukoff, David, Lu, Francis G. & Turner, Robert P. (1998) From Spiritual Emergency to Spiritual Problem - The Transpersonal Roots of the New DSM-IV Category. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 38(2), 21-50, 1998
- Mauro, James (1992) Bright lights, big mystery. Psychology Today, July 1992
- Morse M, Conner D, Tyler D. (1985) Near-death experiences in a pediatric population. A preliminary report. American Journal of Diseases of Children, Jun;139(6):595-600.
- Morse M, Castillo P, Venecia D, Milstein J, Tyler DC. (1986) Childhood near-death experiences. American Journal of Diseases of Children, Nov;140(11):1110-4.
- Peake A, "Cheating The Ferryman - A New Paradigm of Existence?". Journal of Near Death Studies, Vol.23 No 2 (2004)
- Ring K. (1980) Life at death. A scientific investigation of the near-death experience. New York: Coward McCann and Geoghenan.
- Allen Press - Journal of Near-Death Studies
- The International Association for Near-Death Studies, Inc
- University of Virginia Health System - Division of Personality Studies
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