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Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences: Brain-State Phenomena or Glimpses of Immortality?
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Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences: Brain-State Phenomena or Glimpses of Immortality?


Oxford University Press 2010

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Personal accounts of out-of-body (OBE) and near-death (NDE) experiences are frequently interpreted as evidence for immortality and an afterlife. Since most OBE/NDE follow severe curtailments of cerebral circulation with loss of consciousness, the agonal brain supposedly permits “mind,” “soul,” or “consciousness” to escape neural control and provide glimpses of the afterlife.

Michael Marsh critically analyzes the work of five key writers who support this “dying brain” hypothesis. He firmly disagrees with such otherworldly “mystical” or “psychical” interpretations, demonstrating how OBE/NDE are explicable in terms of brain neurophysiology and neuropathological disturbances.

The original basis and thrust of Marsh’s claim sees the recorded phenomenology as reflections of brains rapidly reawakening to full conscious-awareness, consistent with other reported phenomenologies attending recovery from antecedent states of unconsciousness: the “reawakening brain” hypothesis. From this basis, Marsh also offers a reclassification of NDE into early and late phase sequences, thereby dismantling the untenable concepts of “core” and “depth” experiences.

Marsh further provides a detailed examination of the spiritual and quasireligious overtones accorded OBE/NDE, highlighting their inconsistencies when compared with classical accounts of divine disclosure, and the eschatological precepts of resurrection as professed credally. In assessing the implications of anthropological, philosophical, and theological concepts of “personhood” and “soul” as arguments for personal survival after death, Marsh celebrates the role of conventional faith in appropriating the expectant biblical promises of a “New Creation.”

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Key Features

  • Provides the necessary background for readers from different disciplines to engage with the neuroscience, theological, and philosophical contexts
  • Adopts current neurophysiological thinking—on consciousness, dreaming, the basis of body image, and phantom limb phenomenon
  • Includes in-depth discussion of resurrection theology and divine spiritual disclosure


  • Getting a Sense of the Other-Worldly Domain
  • Surveying Past Horizons
  • Authors’ Interpretations of ECE Phenomenology
  • Objective Analyses into ECE Subjectivity
  • Conscious-Awareness: Life’s Illusory Legacy
  • The Temporo-Parietal Cortex: The Configuring of Ego/Paracentric Body Space
  • Falling Asleep, Perchance to Dream—Thence to Re-awaken
  • ECE & the Temporal Lobe: Assassin or Accomplice?
  • Other Neurophysiological Aspects Pertinent to ECE Phenomenology
  • Anthropological & Eschatological Considerations of ECE Phenomenology
  • ECE, Revelation and Spirituality
  • Subjects’ Interpretations of Their Experiences
  • Overview and Recapitulation

Praise for the Print Edition

This is a very worthwhile study, drawing together insights from brain science and . . . theology to shed important light on an area which has been hotly debated.

—Michael Fuller, Expository Times

Product Details

  • Title: Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences: Brain-State Phenomena or Glimpses of Immortality?
  • Author: Michael N. Marsh
  • Series: Oxford Theological Monographs
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Pages: 336

About Michael N. Marsh

Michael N. Marsh is a professor at Wolfson College and a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford.

Sample Pages from the Print Edition