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Dreaming in the World's Religions: A Comparative History

Kelly Bulkeley
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Dreaming in the World's Religions
    Book Description:

    From Biblical stories of Joseph interpreting Pharohs dreams in Egypt to prayers against bad dreams in the Hindu Rg Veda, cultures all over the world have seen their dreams first and foremost as religiously meaningful experiences. In this widely shared view, dreams are a powerful medium of transpersonal guidance offering the opportunity to communicate with sacred beings, gain valuable wisdom and power, heal suffering, and explore new realms of existence. Conversely, the worlds religious and spiritual traditions provide the best source of historical information about the broad patterns of human dream life Dreaming in the Worlds Religions provides an authoritative and engaging one-volume resource for the study of dreaming and religion. It tells the story of how dreaming has shaped the religious history of humankind, from the Upanishads of Hinduism to the Quran of Islam, from the conception dream of Buddhas mother to the sexually tempting nightmares of St. Augustine, from the Ojibwa vision quest to Australian Aboriginal journeys in the Dreamtime. Bringing his background in psychology to bear, Kelly Bulkeley incorporates an accessible consideration of cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary psychology into this fascinating overview. Dreaming in the Worlds Religions offers a carefully researched, accessibly written portrait of dreaming as a powerful, unpredictable, often iconoclastic force in human religious life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8995-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Translations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    Let us start with what I hope is an uncontroversial assumption: you are a human being. If that is true, then the course of your life follows, and has always followed, a cyclical pattern of waking and sleeping. Like other mammals, you are deeply programmed in your brain and body to alternate between two dramatically different states of being. The survival benefits of being awake are obvious—that’s when you’re alert, focused, and active in the world, able to provide for your basic physical needs. Less apparent are the survival benefits of totally withdrawing from the world and going to...

  6. 1 Hinduism
    (pp. 20-49)

    Have you ever had a dream so realistic that when you woke up you weren’t sure for a moment if you were actually awake or still dreaming? Have you ever woken up from a dream only to discover (after you’ve awakened for “real”) that you were still asleep and dreaming? Vivid yet confusing experiences like these grab our attention because they disrupt ordinary assumptions about the line that separates dreams from the waking world. Many people think of waking and dreaming as polar opposites, as synonymous with real and unreal, objective truth versus subjective fantasy. But this kind of sharp...

  7. 2 Religions of China
    (pp. 50-78)

    Have you ever been a student? Worried about classes? Been forced to study for difficult, competitive examinations? Many readers are probably students right now, and others are almost certainly graduates of some kind of educational system, so you know from personal experience the stressful ordeal of taking tests. You probably also know what it is like tohave dreamsof those tests—vivid, realistic, painfully memorable dreams of arriving to class unprepared for an exam or getting lost on the way or misplacing your backpack or not being able to read the test or receiving a failing grade and suffering...

  8. 3 Buddhism
    (pp. 79-109)

    A good case can be made that Buddhism is not so much a religion as a psychology. Its focus on the systematic analysis of mental processes, along with its experimental methods of changing and redirecting those processes, give Buddhism much in common with cognitive science in the contemporary West. The similarities should not be pushed too far, because the Buddha’s teachings encompass much more than psychology, but it is helpful to keep these cognitive dimensions in mind as we begin to consider the dream traditions of Buddhism. Many of the topics of greatest interest to Western psychology—vision, memory, language,...

  9. 4 Religions of the Fertile Crescent
    (pp. 110-137)

    Sooner or later any discussion of dreams leads to a controversial question. Can dreams really foretell the future? For the large majority of humankind, the answer has always beenyes. In the first three chapters we have already seen several instances of belief in the predictive power of dreaming: theAtharva Veda’s catalog of medically diagnostic dream symbols, the pre-battle dreams of Chinese warriors, and the conception dreams of Queens Devananda and Maya, to name a few. In all these, we found dreaming presented as a means of expanding the range of one’s temporal perception, allowing people to see (with...

  10. 5 Religions of Ancient Greece and Rome
    (pp. 138-166)

    Several times now we have heard stories of people performing rituals of dream incubation, and readers may be wondering if these practices actually work. Can the right combination of prayer, sacrifice, and sleep posture really produce a revelatory dream? Is there some kind of naturalistic explanation for the effectiveness of dream incubation, or is it just a superstitious fantasy with no basis in fact?

    If we assume that incubation is an automatic process by which humans mechanically force a divine dream to appear, then we would have to say no, there is very little evidence to support that (if nothing...

  11. 6 Christianity
    (pp. 167-191)

    Here, midway in the book, we should consider the strong cross-currents developing in our knowledge of the dreaming-religion connection. Along with abundant evidence of the positive value of dreaming in religious history we have also found many voices of caution, mistrust, and doubt regarding the divine meaningfulness of dreams. If nothing else, recognition of these different perspectives should put to rest any attempt to characterize the minds of ancient peoples as somehow irrational, deficient, or primitive in comparison with the scientific mind of today. Debates about the truth vs. nonsense of dreaming are nothing new. They extend as far back...

  12. 7 Islam
    (pp. 192-212)

    One way to think about the different types of dreams reported so far is to consider them as variations on the theme ofreactions to an existential crisis.Visitation and pre-death dreams are the most obvious examples, with their vivid evocations of the specter of mortality haunting all human endeavors. The cross-cultural prevalence of threat-simulating nightmares and death-related dream visions is no accident, no mere epiphenomenal product of random neural firings in the brain. The dark forebodings that characterize the most intensified forms of dreams consistently have the effect of stimulating greater existential self-awareness. This should be recognized as a...

  13. 8 Religions of Africa
    (pp. 213-230)

    Of all the dream beliefs and practices considered so far, the one that appears strangest to many people is paradoxical interpretation. From a modern perspective, it seems the height of superstitious absurdity to claim that a dream of one thing means that the opposite will happen in waking life. Such an idea flagrantly violates the scientific principle of falsification—nothing can ever disprove it. If a dream can mean one thingor its opposite,then there is no check on arbitrary interpretations, no protection against consciously or unconsciously deceitful claims. Ultimately the process becomes nothing but a con game: heads...

  14. 9 Religions of Oceania
    (pp. 231-248)

    Much of the discussion so far has focused on what peopleseein dreams. Vision is the strongest mode of sense perception in a large majority of the religiously significant dreams that we have considered. Many of the world’s cultures have enshrined this perceptual primacy in their definitions of dreaming as a kind of inner seeing. Dreams with strong auditory sensations are less often reported; the most impactful types are those in which a god, spirit, or ancestor delivers a clearly spoken message. Taste and smell are rarely mentioned in dream reports, either historically or in contemporary research. Whatever functions...

  15. 10 Religions of the Americas
    (pp. 249-268)

    The comparative study of dreaming makes its claims most persuasively when it focuses on identifying patterns that are clear, simple, and widely distributed. A good example of this is dreaming about animals. Counting animal characters in dream reports is a relatively easy analytic task, and multiple studies using both quantitative and qualitative methods have provided a great deal of data regarding the frequency with which animals appear in dreams.¹ Two findings stand out. First, adults in modern, large-scale industrial societies (the United States, Western Europe, Japan) rarely dream about animals, whereas children in those societies and adults from smaller, preindustrial...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 269-280)

    The stories that I have told, analyzed, and compared in the ten chapters of this book provide a basic historical context for understanding the major patterns and themes of human dreaming. They provide a necessary resource for the comparative study of religion and for scientific investigations into the evolving dynamics of the brain-mind system. Any general theory in dream research, religious studies, or the science of consciousness that fails to take this historical material into account should, in my view, be considered inadequate. Dreams and dreaming have been a widely recognized and highly valued part of human life—particularly in...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 281-300)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-318)
  19. Index
    (pp. 319-330)
  20. About the Author
    (pp. 331-332)