A Close Look At Afterlife


April 16, 1992






            It seems that there is an overwhelming interest in the topic of life after death. From an American sample of over 30,000 people, Shneidman (1971) found that 43% either strongly believed or tended to believe in a post life. And only 11% said that they would definitely not want a life after death, (Berman, 1974). Also from a National Opinion Research Center poll, it was found that as many as 53% of the American population believes in the idea of life after death in one way or another, (Baum, 1983). This whole concept is very new and exciting for me.

            Because of my Christian upbringing, I realize that religion, in particular Protestants strongly believe in the after life. This is the premise of the entire faith. Since, Jesus died for our sins, we have the opportunity to go to heaven if we lead the proper life and accept him as our Lord and Savior and live according to His commandments.   Hence, this fundamentally links personal choice and belief in an afterlife with Christians.

            I will also be interested in the psychological achievements that science is making in this field of development. I am aware of the faults and misconceptions that surveys sometimes give, but as long as the researchers try to limit them, the results should be well worth studying.

            I have been given the chance to look further into the matter by studying previous experiments. I will be narrowing in on the positive belief in afterlife of those who actively believe in this experience. I will take a look at a study of matrilineal societies and a study which linked having a positive death perspective will have a more flourishing afterlife. Then I will focus on the relationship between death anxiety and the belief in afterlife. There are numerous articles concerning this association, however not all of them support their hypotheses. The third perspective is the religious aspects showing the connection between it and afterlife. And the final theme is the psychological perspectives. I take a look at how two authors view the belief in afterlife to be relative to psychosexual fixations. I also take a look at advice on how psychotherapists should handle death anxiety.



Somersan, S. (l984). Death Symbolism in Hatrilineal Societies, ETHOS, 12(2), pp. 151—164, call No. JIM GN 270 E85.

II. A. Positive Belief in Afterlife

            The focus of this article dealt with the symbolic forms concerning end of life experiences in matrilineal societies. Information on the elements of death symbolism was collected from a previous study of 60 societies. The common theme of the societies was belief in ancestral spirits and reincarnation. Also their relative positive quality of predicting their afterlife.

            The authors explained that afterlife refers to the conditions one’s soul must live after death, in the “land of the dead.” There are many different attitudes to the belief in afterlife. In some societies afterlife is uniformly pleasant or unpleasant, conditional to a person’s behavior while on earth. In other societies, the quality of one’s afterlife depends on those still living on earth. For example, the Tlingit of Alaska believe that only when the survivors perform all the mourning rites correctly, then a soul can be directed to the “land of shadows.” Similarly, the Khasi of India believe that the spirit of the dead will go to the “garden of God”, if funeral ceremonies are adequately conducted.

            These societies system of belief involve the idea that women are important because they implement the cyclicity of life. Therefore, the women are the link between the ancestors, the present, and the future generations. This allows the birth of daughters to be rejoiceful, while the birth of sons becomes disappointing. This is an unusual thought for us in America, who lives in an andocentric population.

            In these societies they either have no high Gods or if they exist, they don’t get involved with human mortality. So, the quality of their afterlife is the responsibility of the community at large. And the quality of their afterlife is collective rather than individual.

            The author sums up her article by saying that humans have little choice but to live, as it is in their nature to live. And to do this they must willingly accept death symbolism and reality of death.



Schoenrade, P. A. (1989). When I Die...: Belief in Afterlife as a Response to Mortality, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 15(1), pp. 91—100. Call No.

HM BF 698 Al P48.


II. B. Positive Belief in Afterlife

            Consideration of one’s personal mortality may be a powerful source of discomfort. Consequently, a belief of afterlife reduces the uneasiness linked with the inevitability of death isn’t new. The author’s hypotheses on this present study were that, subjects initially high in belief in afterlife will view death as having more positive and fewer negative implications, than those who had low belief in afterlife. The subjects consisted were 100, University of Kansas psychology students.

            For the individuals with positive death perspective, a significant interaction was observed (p<.04). Also for negative death perspective, there was a significant interaction (p<.003). It seems that when belief in afterlife was strong, a heightened awareness of both positive and negative implications of death occurred. When belief was moderate to weak, the effect of death confrontation on death perspective was dramatically less.

            The pattern of results on both positive and negative death perspective may be explained in the belief in afterlife as functional for dealing with death. The author believes that a strong belief in afterlife can serve to allow the believer to readily acknowledge both perspectives. These findings do support the concept of healing discomfort and suggest that belief in afterlife may bring about awareness of one’s personal mortality.



Berman, A. L. & Hays, J.E. (1973). Relation Between Death Anxiety, Belief In Afterlife, And Locus of control, Journal of consulting and Clinical Psychology, 41(2), pp. 318. Call No. HR BF1 J825.


III. A. Death Anxiety and Belief in Afterlife

            This Study attempts to examine the interrelationships between death anxiety, belief in afterlife, and locus of control. The sample size consisted of 300 college students who answered a four part questionnaire. The results didn’t support the hypothesized relationship between locus of control and death anxiety. Moreover, locus of control was not found to be related to belief in afterlife. On the positive side, there were small, but important correlations found between belief in afterlife and fear of death r = 5%, p<.01.  But the correlation between death anxiety and belief in afterlife was not significant (r= -.02).

            The most justified findings were relative to the demographic variables. The women scored drastically higher than the men on both the death anxiety scale and the belief in afterlife scale. Also the results supported the position that fear of death lowers as a result of obtaining high levels of education (r = - 30).  This article was very brief and direct. The authors presented their data and results without substantial explanation of their test procedures. Their findings weren’t greatly influential in the comprehension of understanding death anxiety and belief in afterlife. Another problem that they forgot to address was that a sample group of college students may not demonstrate the clearest results, in comparison to a sample population of different age groups.



Baum, S. K. (1983). Older People’s Anxiety about Afterlife, Psychological Reports, 52, pp. 895-898. Call No. KM BFI. P96.

III. B. Death Anxiety and Belief in Afterlife

            In this report, the author wanted to test the relationship between anxiety about afterlife and several measures of wellness. Kubler—Ross and others have long recognized the importance of beliefs in afterlife for dying patients and their families. The belief in afterlife is perceived to bring hope to an inevitable situation. 293 elderly persons participated from the Los Angeles area. The mean age of the sample was 75.4 years, being overly represented by 80.5% females. The religion aspect was also overly represented by 84.3% of the Jewish faith.

            The results of this study were quite discouraging. No demographic data were correlated with anxiety about afterlife (p < .05).  Similarly, the measures of health, physical, and psychological wellness, did not confirm the hypothesized relationship. The lack of significant findings was consistent with prior research that fails to implicate death fears with afterlife belief. There were however, slight correlations that must not be overlooked. Those elders who perceived time as slower, there was an increase in anxiety concerning afterlife. This may be possible because they may have more opportunity to dwell on afterlife and the anxiety associated with it.



Kuzendorf, R. G. (1985-86). Repressed Pear of Inexistence and Its Hypnotic Recovery in Religious Students, OMEGA, 16, pp. 23—31. Call-No. 1 BP 789 D404.


III. C. Death anxiety and Belief in Afterlife

            In this article the theme focuses on the empirical relationship between death anxiety and belief in afterlife. The two theoretical issues that the author presents underlying the empirical relationship are: 1) whether fear if death is universal or idiosyncratic, and 2) whether belief in an afterlife merely represses or actually dissipates such fear. The subjects consisted of 5O psychology students from the University of Lowell, who responded to sign-up sheets indicating that the experiment involved hypnosis.

            Of the fifty subjects, 46% professed a belief in “heaven and Hell”, 12% in a “heaven of some sort”, 0% in “reincarnation”, 36% in “the possibility of an afterlife of some sort”, and 6% professed a belief in “no afterlife”. The current results indicate that, when college students are hypnotized and instructed to rate their “subconscious” fears of death, they express greater fear of inexistence than when they are awake.

            The automatic writing by hypnotically responsive participants may have accessed fears that religious belief and other psychological factors repress from consciousness. Or automatic writing may simply have provided a pretext for hypnotically responsive believers to admit their covert but conscious fear of inexistence. But the current results contradict positions that deny the psychological reality of repressed death anxiety.



Aday, R. H. (1981-85). Belief in Afterlife and Death Anxiety:  Correlates and comparisons, OMEGA, 15(1), pp. 67—75. No. Hid BF 789 D404

III. D. Death Anxiety and Belief in Afterlife

            In an attempt to establish a common linkage between death anxiety and belief in afterlife, the author used variables such as respondent sex, race, and religiosity. The research sample was composed of 181 students from a southern university. For the purpose of this study, religiosity was divided into three separate categories: 1) church membership; 2) frequency of church attendance; and 3) self-reported intensity of religious beliefs.

            The results showed that females reported having a higher degree of death anxiety than males (females, n=64 and males, n=43; G=.39). The only factor significantly related to both death anxiety and belief in afterlife was that of church attendance. Those reporting frequency of church attendance (at least once a week) were more likely to report low death anxiety. However, respondents attending church on a monthly basis were more likely to express a high level of death anxiety than infrequent (seldom or never) church attenders.

            This concludes that the results of this study confirm the notion that the belief in afterlife is primarily a function of religion and not, at least directly, a correlate of fear of death. While the study supports the idea that belief in afterlife is inherently a religious concept, it fails to support the notion that the belief in afterlife independently serves the function of reducing death anxiety.



Thorson, J. A. & Powell, F. C. (1988). Elements of Death Anxiety and Meanings of Death, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 44(5), pp. 691-701. Call No. HM RC 321 J74.


III. E. Death Anxiety and Belief in Afterlife

            The objectives of this study were: 1) to see if women would have higher death anxiety than men and that older persons would have lower death anxiety than younger people; and 2) to probe for meanings of death among a large heterogeneous sample. The subjects consisted of 599 people from continuing education classes, undergraduate and graduate students, junior college students, and high school students from Omaha, Nebraska.

Both hypotheses were supported. Women did express greater anxiety (females, n486; males, n=92; F=4.72, p<.03), than men. The authors inferred that this concern had to do with fear of the loss of bodily integrity and fear of pain. The data also sup ported the hypothesis that was consistent with age (ages 16- 19, n=101; ages 20—29, n=228; ages 30—59, n=135; ages 60+, n=99; F=33.26, p<.00001). These findings were much stronger than the authors 1977 data on 659 adults (Cf.F=6.178 in 1977 vs. F=33.26 with the present sample). These results may be because of the use of better age spread in the current sample group.

           I was impressed with the results of this study because, the Multiple Range Test showed from a sample of 599 people, a large standard deviation among the younger age groups that decreased as age and education increased. This could be attributed to a person’s acceptance to the concept of death as they grow older. The relationship between death anxiety and sex was not as strong.



Berman, A. L. (1974). Belief In Afterlife, Religion, Religiosity and Life—Threatening Experiences, OMEGA, 5, pp. 127—135. Call No. k EP 789 D404.

IV. A. Religious Perspectives

            The author states that the relationship between religion, belief in afterlife, and attitudes towards death appear to be profound. He mentions the fact that Christianity allows for triumph over death, while promising the transformation from earthly sin to another existence.

            Additionally, this present study hypothesized a vast range of ideas. It was believed that individuals who went through near- death experiences had greater belief in afterlife than other control groups. Also, belief in afterlife would vary as a function of religion. And initial and long-tern reactions to life threatening experiences would be significantly greater for those religiously active than those religiously inactive. The subjects consisted of 649 individuals from the Washington D.C. area.

            The results showed that there was a slight, but significant finding of belief in afterlife between the group having experienced a near-death situation and those who hadn’t (t=1.13, df=217, P<.30). Also, the hypothesis of religious activity wasn’t upheld. The results indicated that religious activity doesn’t have a deterrent effect on an expected, natural stress reaction to a near— death experience.

            Religion however, does appear to affect the degree to which thinking about God or praying in response to an initial reaction of a life-threatening experience. These results confirm the idea that life after death is primarily a function of religion and not a correlate of the threat of death. Religiously active Catholics and Protestants believe in afterlife to a greater degree than Jews. The author points out that strong religious beliefs may serve to protect an individual from traumatic, life—threatening memories, in comparison to non-believers.



Dixon, R. D. (1982-83). Belief in the Existence and Nature of Life after Death: A Research Note, OMEGA, 13(3), pp. 287—292. Call No.HM BF 789 D404

IV. B. Religious Perspectives

            This article focuses on how individuals anticipate their personal afterlife to be. It was hypothesized that those respondents believing in a favorable afterlife would show lower fear of death scores and/or needs through their children after their own deaths occur. The subjects consisted of 562 people from North Carolina church groups in 1978-79. Virtually all respondents expressing belief in a personal life after death also believed that it would be good for them, independent of denomination preference, frequency of church attendance, or strength of religious belief. Among the 439 relevant incidents, only one person believed her afterlife would be very bad.

            The author concludes that the results of this study may be interpreted to indicate that acceptance of the afterlife concept, is possible only if it can be conceptualized as a personally favorable existence. The author also includes in his summary results from a study that he conducted in a UNC- Wilmington campus survey (N=396). Three hundred and fourteen (82.4%) of the 381 respondents believed it to be likely that they would experience life after death. Among the 314 individuals, 299 responded to the question concerning quality of life after death, 98.3% (294 of 299) express belief that their after lives would be good. Five out of 299 thought that there afterlife would be an unfavorable experience.




Kienow, D. H. & Bolin, R. C. (1989-90). Belief in An Afterlife: A National Survey, OMEGA, 20(1), pp.63—74. Call No. KM BF 789 D404

IV. C. Religious Perspectives

            This article takes a look at the factors affecting the belief in afterlife. Since the area of death and dying is a rapidly growing area of public and academic interest, the focus in this study is to examine the relationship between religiosity and belief in an afterlife based on data from a national survey. With belief in afterlife as the dependent variable, other factors such as sex, race, age, and marital status were tested. This survey was conducted by the National Opinion Research center in 1978, which included 1,532 respondents.

            The results indicated that 69.8% (1,069) respondents believe in life after death and 21.2% (325) do not believe. One—hundred thirty—five respondents (8.8%) selected the “Don’t know” response. The breakdown of data by sex shows that, 67% of males and 71.8% of females believe in afterlife. The data by race shows that, Whites have the highest incidence of belief at 71.5%, while Blacks have a lower incidence of belief at 55.1%. As for age, the 18 to 29 age group had the lowest level of belief (65.4%), the 30 to 59 group had the highest (72%), and the 60+ group had a slightly lower level (70.2%). Married people (71.6%), the divorced (72.4%), and the widowed (71.2%) are among the most likely to believe in life after death. Sixty—six percent of the separated respondents and 60.8% if the singles believe also.

            As for religion indications, those claiming no religious preference have low (41.2%) rates of belief in afterlife. Protestants (75.6%) ranked ahead of the Catholic respondents (68.2%). Those of Jewish faith ranked the lowest (17.2%) of those believers in life after death. These data are similar to another study cited by Hynson of the Roper Public Opinion Research Center Study in 1973. He found these percentages in the belief in life after death: Catholic 70%, Protestant 76%, Jewish 17%, and non- believers 39%.

            According to church attendance variables, those never attending have the lowest percent of believers in life after death (52.7%). In comparison, those attending in the once a week, or more group had the highest results (83.9%). Religious intensity variables showed that those with a strong (90.7%) or somewhat strong (71.4%) religious intensity are more likely to believe in life after death than those who indicate that their religious intensity is not very strong (66.2%).



Juni, S. & Fischer, P. F. (1985). Religiosity and Preoedipal Fixation, The Journal of Genetic Psycholoqy, 146(1), pp. 27—35. Call No. HM BF 1 J827.

V. A. Psychological Perspectives

            According to the authors, religious belief and observance derive from preoedipal oral and anal drives according to the psychoanalytic theory. More specifically, belief in afterlife is related with oral needs for nurturance, including denial of death.

            The religiosity variables included belief in God, belief in afterlife, and regularity of church attendance. Religiosity is thought here to be a complex set of beliefs and behaviors which are influenced heavily by oral fixation and an anal defensive style. It was hypothesized that: 1) belief in God would be a function of orality, 2) belief in afterlife would also be a function of orality, and 3) regularity of church attendance would be a function of (anal) compulsively. Subjects consisted of 460 undergraduate introductory psychology students.

            The results showed that a belief in God correlated dramatically with orality for men (r=.2l, n=74, p=.04), but not for women (r=.07, n=88). Belief in afterlife correlated significantly with orality for women (r=.19, n=75, p=.05), but not for men (r=. 03, n=87). Regularity of church attendance correlated immensely with (anal) compulsive behavioral style for men (r=. 17, n=l94, p=.008), and for women (r=.l4, n=265, p=.0l).

            The authors explain that the general theme of this study relating religiosity to psychosexual fixation can be interpreted within an anthropological-sociological context, with emphasis from western civilization. They feel that religiosity is just another construct that appears to be influenced by psychological effects of one’s development.



Kelly, R. J. (1985). Death Anxiety, Religious Convictions about the Afterlife, and the Psychotherapist, Death Studies, 9, pp. 155—162.Call No. BF 789 D40 395.


V. B. Psychological Perspectives

            This article assumes that an individual s religious convictions about the afterlife may increase or decrease death anxiety. A key function to handling these problems lay in the counseling process and the therapist themselves. The author admits to the fact that the field of psychology has ignored the inevitable phenomenon of death anxiety. Yet it is startling that psychotherapists are usually not trained to provide counseling for this illness.

            The first theme of religious convictions and death anxiety proposes the argument that this relationship depends upon the exact religious beliefs of an individual rather than on an average degree of religiosity. The positive aspects of religious convictions include the belief that death is a transition to the union with God, that goodness will be rewarded, and that God has chosen one’s time of death as part of his beautiful and well thought out plan. The negative aspects include that those with increasing death anxiety may believe that they disappointed God, that one will be punished for their sins, and commissioned to hell.

            The second theme of the psychotherapist vs. death anxiety focuses on the relationship between the two. The authors give step by step suggestions for appropriate counseling of death anxiety. The therapist should first realize that the client has death anxiety. Second, the therapist should realize that the client may

have religious convictions that are affecting the degree of death anxiety. And that the therapist should realize that his or her own beliefs may strongly impact the course of therapy. Finally, the therapist should evaluate the positive and negative aspects of the beliefs of the client and determine an adequate solution, which is the most difficult part of the counseling process of handling death anxiety. The psychotherapist must handle this problem with much care when confronting it.




            The material that I have covered on the study of afterlife has enlightened my current level of awareness. It is not a simple topic of discussion, yet the intrigue of the existence of a post— world is exuberating.

            The positive belief in afterlife articles emphasized a powerful relation between high belief in afterlife and its positive implications. I found it to be very intriguing that the matrilineal societies believe that an afterlife deals with the obedience of the community to properly conduct funeral ceremonies.

            The only article in the topic of death anxiety and belief in afterlife that impressed me was the study conducted by Thorson and Powell. They were able to use a large sample size, including a vast array of age groups. The results did support the hypotheses substantially. It was interesting that as people aged, they had lower death anxiety.

            The results of the religion studies did show an association with the belief in afterlife. I believe that people in general, not just church—goers are afraid of the consequences of our spiritual bodies after death has occurred. Therefore, it would only seem to be a natural response, according to the Klenow & Bolin study, that large groups of people believe in afterlife and it positive experiences.

            From the Psychological perspective, I was interested in the enormous influence that Freud continues to have on our current day experiments. Hence, it seems only obvious that Juni & Fischer’s study encompassed Freud’s psychosexual stages of development. I did appreciate the other article by Kelly, which gave suggestions to therapists for the handling of death anxiety. Instead of avoiding the problem itself, the author addressed the honest facts that most psychotherapists aren’t trained to deal with this subject. matter.