Peter Fenwick and Elizabeth Fenwick

The Truth in The Light

An investigation of over 300 near-death experiences

Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (1999).

Near-death experiences (NDEs) have been reported since the dawn of history and philosophy (Plato relates a semi-mythical case) but the modern interest in the phenomenon began with Raymond Moody's book "Life after life", published in 1975. He was a doctor who described cases he had come across in his patients. Another doctor, Kenneth Ring, published further studies of the same thing, beginning in 1979, and he was followed by a number of others. From all this work there emerged a "standardized" paradigm of the NDE: the person who is near death sees his or her body from outside, then moves away down a long dark tunnel towards a bright light, where waits a Being of Light who provides a non-judgemental life review. Sometimes the experient encounters family members who have died. The experience may end with the person being told that it isn't time for them to die and they must return to life. The experience is generally described as being overwhelmingly blissful; people say they felt safe and loved and didn't want to return to their bodies.

Many writers have concluded that the NDE provides evidence of life after death, although they have to admit that the people concerned haven't actually died. The alternative view is that all these experiences, no matter how fascinating, are produced by the dying brain and tell us nothing about the possibility of survival.

The authors of this book, who are husband and wife, do not unreservedly endorse the claim that the NDE supports the idea of life after death but they are broadly sympathetic to it. Peter Fenwick, who is a neuropsychiatrist, has been interested in questions of this kind for many years and is President of IANDS, the International Association for Near-Death Studies in the UK. This has enabled him to analyse over 300 cases. The book takes each of the characteristic features of the "classic" NDE and illustrates them with extracts from first-hand accounts, some of which are certainly remarkable. Discussing these cases, the authors consider the various arguments that sceptics have advanced to show that NDEs are due to the brain misfunctioning as it nears death. They find these arguments wanting. In their final chapter they discuss the possibility that the NDE is indeed evidence that there is something like a soul which could survive physical death. Although they do not say so in so many words, it's fairly clear that this is the view they favour and it's certain that many readers will agree with them.

I found the book interesting but I remain unpersuaded. At best, I should have to apply the non-committal Scottish verdict, "not proven".

See also Religion, Spirituality and the Near-Death Experience by Mark Fox for a different assessment by a theologian.

%T The Truth in the Light
%S An investigation of over 300 near-death experiences
%A Fenwick, Peter
%A Fenwick, Elizabeth
%I Headline Book Publishing
%C London
%D 1995
%G ISBN 0-7472-1186-8
%P 278 pp
Titles | Authors | Subjects