In summary, Christians say that Jesus being seen after he died and being seen alive does not fit the bill for hallucination.  The argument is that hallucinations are fleeting and a group will not see the same thing or hear the same thing.  Also the witnesses are regarded as too different from each other and having different emotional states to be susceptible.  And hallucinating Jesus would not explain why he was seen several times.

It is a bit of a worry how they admit that the stories are very brief and summary like.  They are skeletal.  There is no evidence of diaries being consulted.  There is not enough there to rule out hallucination. The best way to approach it is to suggest that there was a combination of illusion and hallucination at work.  An illusion is when something is seen but distorted by your senses and prejudices into something else.

Jean's beloved husband Ernie has died.  Somebody talks to her and writes this, "I stood by the fireplace and saw Ernie in his chair with a glow.  In the kitchen Ernie asked me had I any fish.  I said that there was none.  In the hall Ernie told me he would see me again soon.  I heard his voice at bedtime promising to look over me.  Some time later I saw Ernie down by our favourite spot on the beach.  At the ice cream van he told me to have a scoop of honeycomb icecream just like we used to."  Writing this way masks that she actually had brief illusions and hallucinations.  That is exactly what the gospels do too.  You think she spent the whole day with Ernie in the house and at the beach.  It is trying to get you to read more into it than is there.

Even without that it is a bit of a worry how they don't say it might explain some of the stories.  A good prime witness can lead to people leaping on the bandwagon.  If the witness herself or himself suspects a hallucination happened they will want to prevent people seeing that.  She will add in things to make it sound saner.

It is a bit of a worry how they won't study how a culture and a religious background may help form illusions and hallucinations.  A framework can turn an otherwise unimpressive experience into something else.  People's memories are conditioned by their culture.  A hallucination may be only a part-explanation.  If you have a hallucination you are more prone to expecting visions and messages.  That can cause them to happen.  Plus as we have seen there is stigma to hallucination people so will make their experiences sound more wonderful and less like hallucinations.   Hallucination can set the ball rolling and let something else take over.

It is a bit of a worry that they say that Mary thought Jesus was the gardener she was not hallucinating for some hallucinations remold information on front of you.  Gas coming up from the marsh might be twisted by your brain into the image of your beloved mother in her light green gown.

It is a bit of a worry that they put forward studies by scholars who have an inadequate and out of date definition of a hallucination and how it happens.  They do not admit that there is more to the subject than that.  They just use the scholars who they think can be exploited to show that hallucination is untenable as an part or full explanation of what happened after Jesus was crucified.

It is a bit of a worry that Christians treat the science of hallucination as settled when there is in fact so much more to investigate and investigation is ongoing.

It is a bit of worry that the Jesus story is unique and has little in common with other legends that suggest hallucination.

It is a bit of a worry that it is better to imagine hallucination and remarkable coincidences being behind the alleged plausibility of Jesus rising instead of him really rising.

Here is a study on the subject of culture and hallucination.

Culture and Hallucinations: Overview and Future Directions

1. Frank Larøi

2. Tanya Marie Luhrmann

3. Vaughan Bell

4. William A. Christian Jr

5. Smita Deshpande

6. Charles Fernyhough

7. Janis Jenkins

8. Angela Woods


A number of studies have explored hallucinations as complex experiences involving interactions between psychological, biological, and environmental factors and mechanisms. Nevertheless, relatively little attention has focused on the role of culture in shaping hallucinations. This article reviews the published research, drawing on the expertise of both anthropologists and psychologists. We argue that the extant body of work suggests that culture does indeed have a significant impact on the experience, understanding, and labeling of hallucinations and that there may be important theoretical and clinical consequences of that observation. We find that culture can affect what is identified as a hallucination, that there are different patterns of hallucination among the clinical and nonclinical populations, that hallucinations are often culturally meaningful, that hallucinations occur at different rates in different settings; that culture affects the meaning and characteristics of hallucinations associated with psychosis, and that the cultural variations of psychotic hallucinations may have implications for the clinical outcome of those who struggle with psychosis. We conclude that a clinician should never assume that the mere report of what seems to be a hallucination is necessarily a symptom of pathology and that the patient’s cultural background needs to be taken into account when assessing and treating hallucinations.

Different Patterns of Hallucinations

Hallucinations Are Often Culturally Meaningful

There is robust evidence that unusual sensory experiences have been given great importance as foundational spiritual experiences throughout the world—Moses and his burning bush, Paul on the road to Damascus, Arjuna’s vision of Krishna, Buddha beneath the Bo tree...

To become available as plausible experiences of the divine, such hallucinations must conform to local cultural expectations.

The local population at Lourdes, expected Mary to act like a benign mother; had Bernadette reported seeing the blindingly powerful figure Mary was understood to be toward the end of the Middle Ages, the 19th-century French population would probably not have believed that she had seen the Virgin. At the same time, in each vision locale, a kind of fluid and evolving microculture develops, in which some features partake of a broader pattern—known through literature, visual media, and shared pilgrims—but others are idiosyncratic and innovative. At Lourdes, Bernadette behaved oddly, scratching up the earth to find the spring that would later become the focal point of pilgrimage. Taves similarly demonstrates that as the 19th century progressed, the capacity to hear God or the dead speak became more acceptable for ordinary Christians as spiritualism became a popular movement and began to change the way people thought about the human psyche. ...

Dein and Littlewood interviewed 25 members of a Pentecostal church in London who said that they had heard God speak audibly. In such churches, congregants talk of “discerning” whether such a voice comes from God by asking whether the voice is in accord with scripture, gives one peace, and so forth. The anthropologists described 1 man with bipolar disorder who distinguished between God’s voice and his own experience of psychosis this way: “God says something and doesn’t force you, so you can do what you like with it … [the psychotic voices] you can’t refuse to do something when you hear them. They are very pushy.” In such settings, people also often distinguish between unusual sensory experiences from God and those from demons. ...

What visionaries see and hear, when they do so, and how the experience impacts their bodies, especially when onlookers are present, all evolve over time, an indication that the visions are quite vulnerable to expectations and suggestion.

It is only in the 20th century, as Leudar and Thomas point out, that hallucinations have been described as exclusively the sign of an illness. As a result, the term “hallucination” can carry stigma. Nonetheless, events that appear technically to be hallucinations and that conform to popular expectations of the presence of God are still often reported as religious events in popular Western media....

Anthropological work certainly also demonstrates that hallucinations may suddenly increase in a social group at a particular time. For example, after the death of Menachem Schneerson—a Hasidic Rebbe believed by many of his followers to be the messiah and thus a man who would not die in an ordinary way—many followers reported seeing him. The pattern of their reports resembles the reports of seeing Jesus after his death described in the Bible: they are rare; brief; and, often, surprising mundane. Jesus appears as a gardener: the Rebbe shows up in the kitchen.

Both anthropology and psychology/psychiatry have concluded that to some extent, the hallucinations associated with serious psychotic disorder are “pathoplastic,” meaning that they are shaped by local expectation and meaning. Certainly the content of hallucinations is influenced by local culture. Rural Africans are more likely to hallucinate about ancestor worship; Christians are more likely to hallucinate about Christ, Mary, and Satan. But culture seems to affect the form of hallucinations as well


Do the Cultural Variations of Psychotic Hallucinations Have Implications for Clinical Outcome for Those Who Struggle With Psychosis? Studies have shown that a number of mechanisms and factors play a key role in the transition between subclinical hallucinatory experiences and clinical psychosis (see Johns et al). In a population-based, longitudinal study, Krabbendam et al found that those with subclinical hallucinatory experiences at baseline who developed a depressed mood at year 1 were at increased risk of transitioning to psychotic disorder at year 3 follow-up. The authors interpret these findings in light of work showing that attributions of hallucinations as coming from a threatening, powerful, and omnipotent force will lead to feelings of helplessness and depression. If persons with psychosis experience more benign hallucinations in some cultural settings than in others, it may well be the case that the voice-hearing experience will be less clinically harmful. Indeed, both Corin and Luhrmann et al place their observations in the context of the more benign trajectory of schizophrenia in India and elsewhere outside of the West. Research with a consumer-driven movement (the Hearing Voices Movement) has found that training people who hear distressing voices to interact with their voices leads to reduced distress. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that “functional impairment” and “clinical outcome” can itself only be fully defined with regard to the cultural context. For example, the disability caused by hallucinated voices may depend a great deal on the cultural organization of work and the norms of collective toil: people who live in cultures where there is less flexibility with regard to work schedules may find themselves perhaps more impaired than those where the home-work divide is more fluid. Furthermore, there are cultural criteria for who is considered to be in need of clinical attention. In earlier decades, Schooler and Caudill found that Japanese people with schizophrenia were more likely to be identified and brought to the attention of clinical services through aggression, while British people are more likely to be identified as in need of care by the presence of hallucinations.


The present review demonstrates that culture shapes hallucinations in all dimensions of the phenomena: in identification, in experience, in content, in frequency, in meaning, in the distress they elicit, and in the way in which others respond. Further, culture shapes hallucinations in both their pathological and nonpathological forms. In a recent review of research strategies and future directions in cultural psychiatry, Kirmayer and Ben warn against the danger of reifying culture and of relying exclusively on population-level categories of nationality or ethnicity in understanding its relationship to mental ill health. We also insist that culture cannot be reduced to national or even ethnic differences and that there are complex and significant variations within cultures—religious, regional, and political. The global Hearing Voices Movement constitutes an international subculture in which hallucinatory experience is positively valued and through which individuals have been able to embrace a public identity as “voice-hearers,” in turn changing the ways in which they understand, relate to, and experience their voices. Culture belongs not only to the patient but also to the professional; it plays a structural role in shaping the meaning of hallucinatory experience within a clinical setting, but no less of an important role in the context of research. Hallucinations research, like most experimental work in psychology and neuroscience, is WEIRD. That is, a majority of participants and subjects in mainstream studies live in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic societies, as do the researchers who study them. This limits what is known scientifically and clinically about the ways in which hallucinations are experienced, interpreted and valued across cultures, and places renewed emphasis on the importance of ethnographic and interdisciplinary approaches, as well as on increasing the number of countries and cultural groups involved in research.

A number of issues need to be addressed in future studies. For instance, the issue of cross-cultural hallucination prevalence rates in the general (nonclinical) population has not been examined in a direct and in-depth manner. In a recent review of studies examining auditory hallucination prevalence in the general population, no such studies are reported. Further, in a worldwide cross-national (52 countries) study, highly varying prevalence rates for hallucinations among persons with psychosis across countries (0.8% in Vietnam to 31.4% in Nepal) were reported and no further analyses were carried out in order to underline any potential cross-cultural patterns. We are in need of better epidemiological work on hallucinations in both the non-clinical and the clinical populations. There is also an important implication for epidemiological or cross-cultural assessments of the presence of hallucinations. As with the study of Nuevo et al,  that used the same definition to assess for the presence of hallucination across a large number of countries, it is not clear to what extent the huge difference in prevalence is due to genuine difference in the experience of “false perception” and to what extent the difference is due to differing cultural labeling of what is relevant when discussing, “an experience of seeing visions or hearing voices that others could not see or hear.”


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