By Gregory Shushan
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Additional resources for Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations: Universalism, Constructivism and Near-Death Experience
Following this Introduction, Chapter 1 details the methodological and theoretical approaches taken, with particular emphasis on addressing postmodern criticisms of cross-cultural comparisons. A chapter on early civilizations (Chapter 2) then explains the methodological criteria for the selection of civilizations considered; and discusses the limitations of diffusionist theories for the present study. A chapter on the NDE (Chapter 3) focuses on its phenomenology and significance of occurrence cross-culturally.
However, just as not making comparisons is a method rather than a theory, so is making comparisons (notwithstanding the fact that method needs to be justified in theoretical terms). Second, postmodernism has explicitly favoured difference. The act of focusing on cross-cultural similarities is considered politically dubious, for it allegedly does an ‘injustice to the uniqueness of the individual case … violating the integrity of culture’ (Köbber 1973: 190). As Kimberly Patton and Benjamin Ray (2000: 2) have summarized, … to compare is to abstract, and abstraction is construed as a political act aimed at domination and annihilation; cross-cultural comparison becomes intrinsically imperialistic, obliterating the cultural matrix from which it ‘lifts’ the compared object.
A truly comprehensive discussion of each concept/theme/motif/symbol in relation to each culture as a whole, however, is not possible here (or debatably in any single work); and would in any case be largely irrelevant to the central research question which concerns the cross-cultural comparison of a particular element of belief/ experience. Furthermore, it would be pointlessly repetitive of the ‘area studies’ work of other scholars which enables the comparison in the first place: comparison does not need to be justified through the reinvention of the wheel.
Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations: Universalism, Constructivism and Near-Death Experience by Gregory Shushan