Results and Reflections from an Afterlife Diversity Telecourse

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How can we understand our own and other’s worldviews about death? To answer this compelling question, I have conducted extensive interviews over the past decade with cultural experts and scientists, focusing on diverse worldviews concerning death and the afterlife. A content analysis was conducted on these interviews to identify thematic trends across individuals representing different cultural, spiritual and religious worldviews.

From this analysis, a telecourse and web-based learning program was developed. This was organized into a six-part telecourse that was offered as a benefit to Institute of Noetic Sciences members and to others who learned of the course through diverse networks.

The telecourse, with Angela Murphy, was the basis of a pilot study to test the impact of the training on people’s views of death and the afterlife using pre and post test journals and questionnaire data. The narrative journaling exercise focused on two mortality salience prompts: “What do you think will happen to your body when you die?” and “What are the emotions that the thought of your own death arouses in you?”

The content of these journals was analyzed in partnership with my research assistant, Alan Pierce, within- and across-subjects for emotionally meaningful expressions related to the writing prompts. Significant trends were identified. These include an increase in the collective pronoun “we,” (77%) and decreases in negative emotions (20%), including anxiety and sadness. There was also a decrease in language references to religion. Also, “Inclusion” showed a moderate increase (13%) while “Exclusion” showed a moderate decrease (15%) from pre to post tests.

Feedback from the pilot intervention was uniformly positive and included follow-up comments that provided support for the efficacy of the intervention to deepening people’s perspectives about death and inviting open-minded curiosity about and exploration of diverse worldviews on the afterlife. Results of this research were presented at the Science of Nonduality Conference and are now being prepared for journal publication. I will also be offering workshops and telecourses, bringing the topic out through the new film, Death Makes Life Possible.

About Marilyn Schlitz

Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D. is a social anthropologist, researcher, award winning writer, and charismatic public speaker. She serves as President Emeritus and a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Additionally, she is a Senior Scientist at the California Pacific Medical Center, where she focuses on health and healing, and board member of Pacifica Graduate Institute. For more than three decades, Marilyn has been a leader in the field of consciousness studies. Her research and extensive publications focus on personal and social transformation, cultural pluralism, extended human capacities, and mind body medicine. She has a depth of leadership experience in government, business, and the not-for-profit sectors. Her broad and varied work has given her a unique ability to help individuals and organizations identify and develop personal and interpersonal skills and capacities needed by 21st century leaders. Her books include: Consciousness and Healing: Integral Approaches to Mind Body Medicine; Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life; and Death Makes Life Possible. She also wrote and produced a feature film, Death Makes Life Possible, with Deepak Chopra, that has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She is currently creating enrichment programs for life long learning and health professionals.
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