Near-death experiences: A theological interpretation

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Stories about near-death experiences (NDEs) draw much attention from the general public and are extensively discussed by medical doctors and neuroscientists. However, though eschatology belongs to their core business, only few theologians participate in the debate. This article proposes a theological interpretation of NDEs as ‘private revelations’. I first give a critical analysis of the development of the modern, allegedly ‘scientific’, concept of NDE. This concept changes concrete personal testimonies into statistical data that are used as scientific evidence for the existence of an immortal soul. Next, the main criticisms against this concept from neurosciences, study of mysticism and philosophy of mind are discussed. Finally, I argue that ‘private revelation’ is a useful model for a theological understanding of NDEs and that an analogy from Thomas Aquinas’ view on prophetic dreams can help to account for the specific circumstance of imminent death. The interpretation I propose can do justice to the impression NDEs make on people, but can also accept and meet some of the most important criticisms raised against the modern concept of NDEs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-85
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Philosophy and Theology
Issue number1
Early online date30 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2014


  • near-death experience
  • mysticism
  • private revelation
  • Thomas Aquinas


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