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Keywords:

  • spirit;
  • sleep paralysis;
  • near-death experience;
  • modernity;
  • disenchanted;
  • psychopathology

SUMMARY

In the “disenchanted” modern world, belief in the existence of spirits came to be seen as a nonrational and nonempirical product of culture. Psychological and anthropological theorizing explained naïve, nonmodern spirit encounter experiences as culturally loaded imaginative events. Among modern populations such experiences were assumed to be pathological and relatively rare. The resulting stigma suppressed the reporting of spirit encounters by modern individuals, bringing appearances into line with theory. Recent research, particularly in medicine, has shown that spirit encounters taken to be real are actually quite common in modern populations without regard to education or religious or other cultural background. This has initiated a slow but dramatic revision of psychiatric diagnosis, and it demands a major reconsideration of social science theories of spirit belief, especially in anthropology.