Are you ready for something esoteric? I promise Israel will not be mentioned in this post.

Recently I saw two related items of interest that I want to share.  The first, a column in Salon.com, is an excerpt from a book authored by Dr. Mario Beauregard, associate research professor at the Neuroscience Research Center at the University of Montreal. The excerpt describes near-death experiences (NDEs), profound mystical encounters that thousands of people each year experience due to advances in resuscitation techniques used during medical crises such as cardiac arrests. Research has shown that roughly 10%-20% of people who are resuscitated report having NDEs – lucid experiences where they retain their full consciousness, memory, emotions, thinking processes, and sense of vision and hearing – despite being clinically dead.

Dr. Beauregard, while providing in his Salon.com excerpt a brief overview of what a typical NDE consists of, concentrates on one aspect of many NDEs: out-of-body experiences. This is a phenomenon where people who are comatose or clinically dead are able to see and hear from a location above their bodies what is happening around them. This is impossible according to our modern conception of reality and might sound like science fiction to those who are not familiar with NDEs. Yet databases compiled by researchers contain large numbers of accounts from people who report this experience – and Beauregard describes in detail just two of the many accounts that have been independently verified as accurate.

The research into NDEs at hospitals and academic centers has stirred intense controversy. The scientific revolution of the past 400 years has developed a materialist worldview: reality is explained through physical observation and mathematical formulas. Ineffable religious expression and spirituality have no place in this paradigm. Research into NDEs by respected medical and academic investigators is a direct challenge to this scientific paradigm and thus has engendered a harsh reaction.

Beauregard describes some of the attempts to develop medical explanations for the out-of-body phenomenon, all of which so far fail when thoroughly analyzed. The passions aroused by this debate can get intense – you know you are striking foundational beliefs when the dialogue gets heated.

The second item of interest is a related blog post by a good friend, Nancy Evans Bush, who has been involved with NDE research for three decades. She weighs in on this debate in a dispassionate manner, trying to broaden the dialogue and opening the door to more than one worldview. Nancy is an insightful writer and a joy to read, no matter what her topic.

These two columns offer a partial glimpse into an unusual area of human experience. If you would like more information, please send me a message thru the contact page on my blog’s website and I’ll be glad to send you more links to this fascinating area of research.

How this debate plays out over the coming years – and what future research shows – could have a significant impact on religious life and how we conceptualize our world. The ramifications could be enormous.