Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"From Sleep Paralysis to Spiritual Experience: An Interview with David Hufford"

From Sleep Paralysis to Spiritual Experience: An Interview with David Hufford by John W. Morehead.

David Hufford has been pursuing research on the "Old Hag" sleep paralysis phenomenon for quite some time. Perhaps his best-known work on this is The Terror That comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press; 2nd ed, 1989). Hufford joined the faculty of the Penn State College of Medicine in 1974 in the Department of Behavioral Science. When he retired in 2007 he held a University Professorship and was chair of the Department of Humanities with appointments in Departments of Neural and Behavioral Science, Family & Community Medicine, and Psychiatry. Hufford is now University Professor Emeritus at Penn State College of Medicine, Senior Fellow for Spirituality at the Samueli Institute, and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Hufford is also a founding member of the Editorial Boards of Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing and Spirituality in Clinical Practice.

John Morehead: David, thank you for your willingness to be a part of this interview. Your research on the sleep paralysis phenomenon is well known. How did you come to develop a personal interest in it, and how did your research on the "Old Hag" phenomenon in Newfoundland perhaps begin this process on an academic level?

David Hufford: That, John, is a very good question. It goes to the very center of my professional interests, values and goals. In December of 1963 I was a college sophomore. One night I went to bed early in my off campus room. I had just completed the last of my final exams for the term, and I was tired. I went to bed about 6 o'clock, looking forward confidently to a long and uninterrupted night's sleep. In that I was mistaken.

About 2 hours later I was awakened by the sound of my door being opened, and footsteps approached the bed. I was lying on my back and the door was straight ahead of me. But the room was pitch dark, so when I opened my eyes I could see nothing. I assumed a friend was coming to see if I wanted to go to dinner. I tried to turn on the light beside my bed, but I couldn't move or speak. I was paralyzed. The footsteps came to the side of my bed, and I felt the mattress go down as someone climbed onto the bed, knelt on my chest and began to strangle me. I really thought that I was dying. But far worse than the feelings of being strangled were the sensations associated with what was on top of me. I had an overwhelming impression of evil, and my reaction was primarily revulsion. Whatever was on my chest was not just destructive; it was absolutely disgusting. I shrank from it.

I struggled to move, but it was as though I could not find the "controls." Somehow I no longer knew how to move. And then I did move, I think my hand was first, and then my whole body. I leaped out of bed, heart racing, and turned on the light to find the room empty. I ran downstairs where my landlord sat watching TV. "Did someone go past you just now?" He looked at me like I was crazy and said "no."

I never forgot that experience, but I told no one about it for the next eight years. There was no question of interpreting this experience, locating it within my cultural frame. There was no place for it there. Dream? I knew, absolutely knew, I had been awake. Hallucination? I was sure that I was not crazy, but I also knew this would not be convincing to others. The insane are, according to stereotype, the last to know. So the experience just hung there, unconnected. Disturbing.

In 1970 I traveled to Newfoundland, Canada, to do my doctoral dissertation fieldwork. I went to study supernatural belief. I was probably influenced by my bizarre experience, but I was also responding to a larger interest. In graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania I had been taught that supernatural beliefs are non-rational, unsupportable by proper reasoning, and that they are non-empirical, lacking any sound observational basis. This seemed too sweeping and a bit arrogant, so in my research I proposed to ask whether traditional beliefs might have some rational and empirical elements. I went to Newfoundland because it is isolated and has a strong traditional culture, the kind of place where I had been taught one might find remnants of pre-modern belief. It proved to be a good choice.

While doing my research I taught at Newfoundland's Memorial University in the Folklore Department and worked in the department's extensive archive. Almost immediately I found the Old Hag, although at the moment it happened it felt more as if the Old Hag had found me - again. When you "have the Old Hag," Newfoundlanders said, you awoke to find yourself unable to move. The hag, a terrifying something, could be heard coming, footsteps approaching your room. The hag would enter your room and press you, crushing the breath out of you. If the experience is not interrupted they said it could end in death.

The Old Hag presented me with a dilemma. I had been taught that stories about supernatural experiences confirming local traditions are produced by cultural influences, what I have called The Cultural Source Hypothesis (CSH). But the Old hag had come into my room in 1963 out of a cultural void. Tradition says, "We believe this because it had happened to us." Modern scholarship reverses this and says, "You think this happens because you believe it." My dilemma: I could explain the Old Hag based on cultural processes that confirm local cultural traditions - although I knew that my own prior experience flatly contradicted such explanations. Or I could develop an entirely new kind of explanation.

This all amounted to a stunning discovery. I now knew something about the Old Hag tradition that no one else seemed to know. But I was in no better position to proclaim this publically than I had been to talk about my experience in 1963. I did not want to say, "Hey, that happened to me too! So that tells us that.... Trust me on this!" Personal experience lends authenticity and expertise to scholarly work, when the experience is granted to be real - experiences of illness, of being in prison, of being an artist, of gender, of race, of all sorts of recognized categories of experience. But contested experiences have the opposite effect; they are seen as pure bias, "Oh, he's a believer (and therefore not be trusted)." If I were to place my experience and my Newfoundland findings within a sensible cultural frame, it would have to be a frame partly of my own making. In that way the personal became professional, academic.

John Morehead: How has your academic discipline of folklore studies been important in your understanding of the phenomenon? And what do you think about the use of other disciplines like anthropology being utilized to help us understand it?

David Hufford: I entered the discipline of folklore in the mid-1960s because it included "folk belief" as a recognized topic for research, and because it had a populist orientation. In general it showed great respect for the views of ordinary people. In art, architecture, oral literature, agricultural methods, etcetera folklore stood up for the worth of ordinary culture. But I quickly discovered in graduate school that unlike other cultural genres, folk belief and respect for the knowledge claims of ordinary people occupied structurally antithetical positions in the discipline. Although folk music scholars did not judge by the standards of classical composition, folk belief scholars did, in fact, judge "superstition" by its conformity to current scientific opinion. Considering that most folk beliefs had never been subjected to systematic scientific research this seemed pure, unjustified ethnocentrism. My anthropology training presented a related but more modern problem.

The Boasian turn from blatant ethnocentrism to a sort of protective hermeneuticism offered the kind of patronizing acceptance that a psychotherapist offers to a psychotic patient: I believe that your hallucinations are real to you. Finding internal consistency and rejecting evaluative comparisons to external knowledge, folk belief was accorded "its own logic." This fit well with the 20th century scholarly resistance to comparative method. The post-modern turn rejected not only scientific reduction but also all other efforts to obtain objective knowledge through comparison. Scientific positivism reduced all sorts of folk beliefs to cultural fictions. Folklore and anthropology, in fact the social sciences and the humanities in general, were of little assistance as I wrestled with the "Old Hag." In fact, with regard to "folk belief" I came to see these academic disciplines as functioning to protect modernity from being challenged by the knowledge of other cultures and times. Ironically, this is similar to the function of positivism, but it offers the advantage of apparently respecting the knowledge claims it rejects.

John Morehead: Can you summarize the basic elements that define the sleep paralysis phenomenon?

David Hufford: Sleep paralysis (SP) refers to the loss of voluntary movement either during the period just before sleep (hypnagogic stage or sleep onset) or just after (hypnopompic stage). The paralysis is produced by a cholinergic mechanism in the reticular activating system in the brain stem that functions to prevent the sleeper from physically carrying out actions occurring in dreams. This atonia-producing mechanism is a normal feature of rapid eye-movement sleep. In SP this mechanism intrudes into wakefulness. This might suggest that the "intruder" experience of SP is "just dreaming" while awake. The problem is this: dreams vary greatly from subject to subject and over time, and their content tends to reflect inputs from the dreamer's waking life, together with aspects of the sensed environment (e.g., in a hot room one may dream of a tropical environment). The "Old Hag" is very different. It is as if dreamers all of over the world and throughout history report the same dream, and that repeated content does not require the subject's prior knowledge! Furthermore the contents do not reflect the range of possible features that could arise from waking consciousness during REM sleep, rather being restricted to a very narrow spectrum; e.g., people do not experience the ceiling falling on them or terrorists entering their room, either of which would conform to the pressure and immobility of the experience.

John Morehead: In the 1980s you wrote The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions. What types of conclusions did you come to about the phenomenon at that time?

David Hufford: My conclusions were data driven, and my data was especially rich, ranging from anthropological and historical documentation to phenomenology to medical and neurophysiological findings, because I employed mixed methods, including ethnographic interviews, surveys, and literature review. The ethnographic interviewing was phenomenologically oriented, aimed at developing a detailed description of the range of perceptual features of SP. These interviews began with open-ended questions such as, "Please tell me all that you recall about your experience." No questions probed for the features with which I was familiar; e.g., I never asked, "Was there a presence in the room with you?" My research design predicted that "the Old Hag" could be explained by the cultural source hypothesis as cultural elaborations of SP (although my own experience had already shown me that this was not possible), and asked whether objective findings conformed to that prediction. They did not.

My interviews revealed a stable phenomenological pattern very similar to what I had experienced in college. The surveys showed that this pattern did not depend on cultural input or prior knowledge of any kind. The literature review documented reports consistent with SP in cultures all over the world and throughout history, although such reports had not previously been connected with SP. The terms used for description in different traditions were obviously culturally determined, such as "Old Hag," the Mara (Tillhagen, 1969) of Sweden, the da chor (Tobin & Friedman, 1983), dab coj, poj ntxoog (Munger, 1986), or dab tsog (Adler, 1991) in Southeast Asia, the sitting ghost or bei Guai chaak (being pressed by a ghost) (Emmons, 1982) in China, kanashibari in Japan, and many more from around the world and throughout history refer to the same event characterized by paralysis, the conviction of wakefulness before or emerging from sleep. These cultural terms were associated with a variety of other details such as soft shuffling footsteps and the shadow man' or misty presence, regardless of cultural context. A detailed review of modern scientific knowledge of SP found neither any awareness of this distinctive phenomenological pattern, nor any mechanisms that would account for it.

So, my conclusions in The Terror stemmed from the way that my research contradicted the Cultural Source Hypothesis as an explanation of "the Old Hag" and similar traditions. In its place I found that this phenomenon fit, instead, the Experiential Source Hypothesis: (1) many traditions of supernatural assault around the world refer the phenomenon known as sleep paralysis in modern sleep research, (2) scientific knowledge of SP lacks knowledge of its cross-culturally consistent phenomenology and has no adequate explanation for that pattern, (3) the cross-contextual perceptual patterning is what reason leads us to expect of accurate reports from independent witnesses, therefore (4) traditions of supernatural assault that contain the SP pattern are empirically based and rationally derived.

John Morehead: Of course, your research continued beyond the 1980s. How did this develop, and how did your understandings develop by 2005 when you wrote your essay "Sleep Paralysis as Spiritual Experience" for the journal Transcultural Psychology?

David Hufford: In 1974 I finished my Ph.D., returned from Newfoundland and accepted the position of Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at Penn State's College of Medicine. I was offered this position based on the stance I developed in my doctoral dissertation, Folklore Studies Applied to Health (University of Pennsylvania 1974), which was focused on folk belief. I explored ways that the study of folk belief could serve medical research and care. Chapter 6 was devoted to the Old Hag and SP. I saw two major connections to medicine: (1) belief is a major determinant of health behavior (from patients' beliefs about etiology and treatment to doctors' beliefs about patients), and (2) the fact that in the 20th century medicine, psychiatry in particular, had provided practically all explanations for "folk belief" (meaning false belief traditionally supported), especially experiential claims in support of folk belief, through psychopathology (wish fulfillment, unconscious sexual forces, delusions, hallucinations, etc.). The journey I embarked on in my Newfoundland research was perfectly suited to the medical context, although in a somewhat perverse way. I accepted the appointment to work to improve medical care and diagnosis, but to do that I would have to directly address the harm done by medical misunderstandings. Ironically, folklore and anthropology (et al.) had been complicit in those misunderstandings. So, I went to medicine to subvert the received worldviews of modern intellectuals, in order to advance medical care. The Terror was a major part of that program.

A central aspect of my subversive agenda was to pursue the extension of the Experiential Source Hypothesis beyond SP to other spiritual experiences. By spiritual I mean whatever refers to spirit, which in English mans the immaterial part of a living being. Part of my subversion has involved constantly working against the academic misuse of the term spiritual to refer to whatever gives one meaning in life. That definition, rooted in Christian existential theology (for example, the work of Paul Tillich), is a misappropriation of the natural language word, reflecting the philosophical and theological inclinations of many academics. But it is a false and confusing characterization of the concept in common English. You should also note that spiritual in this traditional, non-material sense is at the heart of the word supernatural. The words are not identical in meaning, but believing in one entails believing in the other.

Anyway, in 1974 I had wondered whether SP with a presence was the only such anomalous experience giving rise to supernatural folk belief - belief in spirits being the main such belief. Beginning in 1974 I searched for broader implications, lessons that Newfoundland's "Old Hag" might teach us about other supernatural traditions. Could other supernatural beliefs also arise from experience rather than vice-versa? In 1974, the year I returned from Newfoundland, Raymond Moody published Life After Life (1st edition, Atlanta: Mockingbird Books), "Actual case histories that reveal that there is life after death." Moody coined the term "near-death experience" and described the NDE as common among resuscitands. The immediate skeptical response, especially from the medical community, was that this could not be common or "we would have known about long ago!" My SP work showed me the flaw in this reasoning, and a little fieldwork quickly showed me that the NDE seemed to be another case of experientially based supernatural belief. Subsequent research reporting NDEs from other cultures and other times showed that it fit the Experiential Source Hypothesis in the same way that SP with a presence does. At about the same time I found the work of W. Dewi Rees, M.D., a Welsh physician whose study published in The British Medical Journal (1971) showed that visits from the spirit of a deceased loved one are common among the bereaved. Contrary to contemporary psychiatric thinking, which had labeled such experiences symptoms of pathological grieving, Rees showed that these visits (now called "after death contacts," ADCs) were consistently associated with less indications of depression and better resolution of grief! Continued research over the past 30 years has confirmed Rees' early conclusions, and the characterization of the experiences in the psychiatric literature has changed dramatically.

During my 30 plus years at the College of Medicine I made the study of modern resistance to the facts of what I came to call "extraordinary spiritual experiences" (ESE's, as opposed to ordinary experiences interpreted spiritually) as much a part of my research as the experiences themselves. I found the cultural context within which the experiences occur, dominated not by science per se, but by materialistic philosophical beliefs assumed to be inextricable from science, to be essential to the study of the experiences. Among my conclusions has been the conviction that science and well-established scientific knowledge do not contradict "folk beliefs," either those about spirits or folk medical beliefs such as those that underlie herbalism in the treatment of disease. I realized that what was at issue was the cultural authority of science, that that authority had been excessively extended over the past century or so. This did not amount to a disagreement with either the scientific method or the well-established findings of science. In fact, I came to believe that what was needed to begin to appreciate the remarkable knowledge of folk traditions was better science, more rigorous and less biased.

John Morehead: What are the various interpretations that are brought to the phenomenon in the cultures in which it is found?

David Hufford: That's a really interesting question. There is variety, but a constrained variety. The interpretations center, as you might imagine, on the intruder. In almost all cases this entity is described as evil or at least threatening. It may be interpreted as a sorcerer or a ghost or demon or some other kind of supernatural, such as a vampire. In many locations it is assumed that more than one kind of creature can do this, such as both sorcerers and ghosts. The definitive characteristics of these categories, of course, are not unambiguously presented in the SP experience. If the intruder is recognized as a particular living person (which seems rare) then it is understandable that it will be interpreted as a sorcerer. If the attack is sexual, which seems infrequent but it does happen, and if there is a term such as incubus or succubus, that will be applied. If the attack occurs in a house believed to be haunted, which is common, then the intruder is generally assumed to be a ghost. When features of an attack do not obviously suggest one kind of entity or another, then local categories fill in, such as the aswang (Tagalog) in the Philippines. This remarkable consistency and similarity across cultures is a product, obviously, of the robust and consistent cross-cultural pattern of the phenomenology of SP.

John Morehead: Let's focus specifically on how the phenomenon is interpreted in Western cultures where secularism, advances in the neurosciences, and skepticism toward religious or spiritual experiences, are prevalent. How have paranormal or other spiritual interpretations been received in this context?

David Hufford: The conventional view in anthropology, folklore and other disciplines has always been that all experience is somewhat ambiguous, so the values and assumptions resident in one's culture will determine one's interpretation of events. This is the central understanding of the Cultural Source Hypothesis (CSH), and it extends even beyond interpretation to perception in many theories (e.g., the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis). As you note, the conventional view in the modern academic world is philosophical materialism, especially with regard to matters of spiritual belief and religion, which are assumed to be very ambiguous. But ironically, the Cultural Source Hypothesis accounts for the academic interpretation of SP, not for the interpretations found among most that have experienced SP! Despite evidence to the contrary most academics assume that somehow prior learning, presumably through cultural processes, yields expectations that produce the content of all sorts of spiritual experiences. This is what has been called the universal hermeneutic approach; it is illustrated by the influential work of philosopher Steven Katz. Katz, who was most concerned with "mystical experiences," insisted that visionaries only experience what they have been taught to experience.

Contrary to modern intellectual assumptions, most subjects in the modern Western world, the disenchanted world to use Weber's term, interpret SP events as spiritual or "paranormal." This is because the events are, in fact, minimally ambiguous. And the available interpretations for an intruder who can through walls and paralyze its victim (etcetera) are very few: hallucination or something spiritual or "paranormal." The SP consciousness is very lucid, unlike dream consciousness, and many of the observations (e.g. the physical environment) made in this consciousness are veridical. This clear sense of reality warrants this interpretation for most subjects. Of course, there is also the fact that we now know that the "disenchantment" of modern consciousness has been greatly over-rated!

John Morehead: In the conclusion of your Transcultural Psychiatry essay you state, "that there is nothing specific within our scientific knowledge of [sleep paralysis] that contradicts spirit interpretations." Given our growing understanding of the brain through the neurosciences, can you expand a bit on what you mean and how there may be connections here between scientific knowledge of the brain in religious experience and a spiritual interpretation of that experience?

David Hufford: Another good question! In considering the relationship between scientific knowledge and spiritual belief we need to be scrupulous about the meaning of the term contradiction. Two propositions are contradictory only if they negate each other, that is, if it is the case that if Proposition 1 is true Proposition 2 must be false, not just that Proposition 1 challenges Proposition 2 or suggests that Proposition 2 may be wrong. The scientific proposition "that the Earth is billions of years old" negates the Young Earth Creationist proposition "that the Earth is 6,000 years old." If one of these propositions is true, the other must be false. Logical analysis requires that we understand the meaning of the terms involved. Therefore, the hermeneutical idea that "6,000 years" in scriptural terms might mean something very different from what we mean by it today removes the contradiction but makes the proposition rather meaningless.

A proposition that would negate the traditional interpretation of SP would be "that there are no immaterial spirits." If that were true, it would negate the traditional idea "that the shadow intruder in SP is a spirit of some kind." These propositions would contradict each other. But "that there are no spirits" is not a scientific proposition. There are no scientific experiments, nor can we easily imagine one, that would establish this proposition. If it were true "that the intruder in SP is a spirit" that would not contradict any scientifically established knowledge. It would not be relevant to the mechanistic REM explanation of the cholinergic "switch" for SP atonia. On the other hand, the knowledge that the SP phenomenology is independent of cultural context does contradict the conventional social science use of the Cultural Source Hypothesis (CSH) to explain SP. But this use of the CSH has no valid empirical base, being more a reflection of ideology than a scientifically derived conclusion.

Scientific method and scientific knowledge about sleep are very useful in understanding SP, but they do not include some crucial information that is widely available in folk tradition, and that can be checked empirically. In this sense the two traditions are complementary. But brain science at present no more explains the consistent phenomenology of SP than folk tradition explains its neurophysiology.

Common spirit experiences do not show that the Earth is flat, that germs do not cause disease, etc. They do not contradict and are not contradicted by modern knowledge. The observation that many people with modern knowledge reject these beliefs does not constitute a contradiction. Much more common than contradiction is the idea that modern knowledge makes supernatural belief unnecessary by providing superior explanations for the same observations. This is the argument from parsimony or Occam's Razor. This claim has its roots in the old notion of supernatural belief as consisting of primitive explanations for observations of natural phenomena.

The kind of direct perceptual "spirit experiences" reported in SP (and NDEs, ADCs, et cetera) do not inherently offer an account of any natural phenomena. If they did there would be the possibility of contradicting scientific knowledge. What they do offer is an account of some of the characteristics of spirits and their relationship to humans. All conventional theories of such experiences treat them as hallucinations or illusions and rely on assumptions of cultural sources to account for their patterning, because no psychological theories exist that explain (or even acknowledge the existence of) complex hallucinations having a broad, cross-cultural, perceptual stability. However, these experiences cannot be accounted for by cultural models because of their cross-cultural distribution. Therefore, even on grounds of parsimony, modern knowledge does not conflict at all with the most basic beliefs that follow from such experiences.

John Morehead: In your research you have noted similarities between the sleep paralysis phenomenon and out-of-body and UFO abduction experiences. Are there any similarities or parallels to other things, and what does this tell you about sleep paralysis?

David Hufford: One partial exception to the spiritual/"paranormal" interpretation, arising from modern ideas, is the notion that these events are "screen memories" for alien abduction. Contrary to what some researchers have claimed, this remains a minority interpretation, and it relies on the spurious idea that these "screen memories" conceal a forgotten scenario that can be retrieved through hypnotic regression. The prevalence and distribution of SP with a presence, historically and cross-culturally, is entirely at odds with this idea. The same is true for the tragic error of treating SP as a screen memory for repressed memories of sexual abuse, or as the root cause of Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS) among Southeast Asian men.

The similarities in these cases come largely from the outside observer rather than the subject. In both alien abduction and sexual abuse scenarios the presence of a threatening intruder in the bedroom is similar. The pressure of someone lying on you may be similar to sexual abuse, and the feeling of leaving your body, present in a substantial minority of SP events, resonates with the alien abduction scenario. In SUNDS the impression of impending death common in SP is a similarity. But these are tenuous similarities. In SUNDS, for example, the subject actually dies, but all epidemiological and medical evidence indicates that people simply do not die from SP. Also, SP OBEs do not involve trips to alien space ships, unless the SP experiencer is subject to extensive interrogation under hypnosis by a UFO researcher. And only a small - but important - fraction of SP cases involve sexual aspects. These and other misattributions of SP result from widespread ignorance of SP, and they can be VERY destructive. I have dealt with them at some length in my Transcultural Psychiatry article.

What we learn from the erroneous connections of SP with a variety of unrelated phenomena is that even robust, consistently stable classes of spiritual experience will be the subject of extreme efforts at assimilation to interpretations that seem more "modern" than the common understanding of subjects. Even alien abduction, as unconventional as it is, provides a modern sounding account in contrast to ghosts! These reinterpretations of SP are not so different from the interpretation of near-death experiences as delirium or after death contacts as hallucinations of pathological grieving. In all cases the fit of the data to the interpretation is poor, but the goal seems to be modernization rather than objective accuracy.

John Morehead: In your Transcultural Psychology essay you discuss "the persistence of spirit beliefs in modern society despite the cultural and social forces arrayed against them." You argue that this may be accounted for due to "transcendent, spiritual experiences." How do you see sleep paralysis functioning as a "core spirit experience?"

David Hufford: By core spiritual experiences I mean perceptual experiences that (a) refer intuitively to spirits without inference or retrospective interpretation, (b) form distinct classes with stable perceptual patterns, (c) occur independently of a subject's prior beliefs, knowledge or intention (psychological set), and (d) are normal (i.e., not products of obvious psychopathology).

Here perceptual experiences means episodes of awareness that are subjectively appear to be observations rather than inferences or emotional states. Most SP experiences (about 80% in my survey data) include a "spirit (that is, an apparently non-physical) intruder," and many develop into complex scenarios of assault.

It should be obvious, then, why I consider this a spiritual experience: it usually involves a spirit (the intruder), and when SP produces an OBE it presents the experience of being a spirit. Despite the typically ambiguous meanings of spirituality so common among intellectuals today, lexical research has overwhelmingly shown that in English for many centuries spirituality refers to spirits. By core spiritual experience, I mean that such experiences provide a central (core) empirical foundation from which some supernatural beliefs develop by inference. You may recall that at the beginning of my career I set out to ask whether traditional supernatural beliefs might have some rational and empirical elements. The discovery of core spiritual experiences answers that question with a clear yes.

John Morehead: Are there any new trajectories in your research in this phenomenon? What can we look forward to in your future work in this area?

David Hufford: Remarkably it seems my original trajectory remains both viable and productive. I still want to assess and understand the empirical and rational grounds of widespread spiritual beliefs. I want to find additional core spiritual experiences. For example, in 1985 I collaborated with Genevieve Foster in the writing of her memoir of a particular kind of mystical experience (The World Was Flooded with Light, University of Pittsburgh Press). There is reason to believe her experience is a member of another core experience set, but we have very little relevant data. I would love to pursue that. I am trying to understand the common intellectual resistance to traditional spiritual belief both from the materialist side and from the theological side. Keep in mind, even though core spiritual experiences are found in most religious traditions around the world, they are either absent or severely constrained within modern, mainstream religion. I also want to understand fully the role of medicine, especially psychiatry, in stigmatizing and suppressing this topic in the modern world through psychopathological theories.

Out of each of those strands, my central desire is to facilitate a change in the modern understanding of spirituality, a change that needs to reform both science (including medicine) and religion. A change that recognizes that Weber's disenchantment of the world did not, in fact happen, and for good reason. The world we live in is far more interesting than we have been taught. The spiritual aspect of the world demands the attention of educated and sophisticated thinkers, not the kind of anti-empirical dogmatic denial of human spirituality that we see today. The public needs to know that if they have a near-death experience or a visit from a deceased loved one that they have good reason to feel the consolation that comes naturally with such experiences, and not the anxiety imposed by modern sanctions against spiritual experience. They need to know that if they have a scary experience of SP it does not mean they are crazy OR that they can't tell the difference between waking and sleeping. Other cultures throughout the world have knowledge that helps to deal with SP. We should not be the only ones left in ignorance. The ignorant and irrational rejection of spirituality so common among intellectuals in modern society makes the public vulnerable to all sorts of cult claims and religious extremism. I would like to contribute to changing these things. I am far from alone in this, and I see the change coming. I hope to live long enough to contribute to reaching the turning point!

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