Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

A New Model for Expansion of Individual Consciousness: Ego Death in Literature, Religion, and the Phenomenon of Near-Death Experiences

Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein, Susan Smily.

The key universal questions human beings ask themselves are, “Who am I? Why am I here? Where will I go when I die?” One answer to these questions arises from the letting go of self or ego in relation to the world, releasing personal desires and attachments and thereby achieving a “bigger picture” with respect to one’s personal service to humanity. This "ego death" appears consistently in literature and religious ritual and more recently in the experiences of near-death survivors.

From ancient Sumer, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the stories of descents to the underworld reflect the need for a hero to die to the body and his personality in order to attain the heightened consciousness necessary to accomplish a goal or achieve a quest.

Ancient mystery religions, which focused on the death and rebirth of a seasonal divinity, offered hope for the initiate’s consciousness to survive physical death. Spiritual rituals calling for a symbolic ego death were part of many of these traditions and survive today in such forms as Christian baptism, Freemasonry’s initiation rituals, and even the writing of New Year’s resolutions.

The three Abrahamic religions called for an ego death purification of heroic leaders through 40 days in the wilderness or on a mountaintop, bringing a potential prophet or teacher to a dimension of expanded consciousness.

The transformative experiences related by near-death survivors mirror the personality shift described by these stories and practices and may point the way for a new model for expansion of individual consciousness.


Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein  (United States)
Adjunct Associate Professor
Division of Humanities Department of English
University of Southern Indiana

Honora Finkelstein has been a U. S. Navy intelligence officer, a college professor, a small-press publisher, a prize-winning newspaper editor, a television producer, a lecturer on personal empowerment, and a talk-show host. She holds a Ph.D. in English, has taught workshops across North America, and is an ordained interfaith minister and Reiki master. She has authored both nonfiction and fiction books, poetry chapbooks, and over 140 articles. She is the founder of Sunweavers, Inc., a nonprofit organization for networking writers, artists, and creative visionaries in all fields.

Susan Smily  (United States)

SUSAN SMILY, M.A. (Ed.), has 24 years classroom experience, during which time she also presented workshops in elementary science education in Canada, Australia, and the U.S. From 1985-1987 she was President of the BC Science Teacher’s Association. She has authored a poetry chapbook, a teacher guidebook, over 20 educational publications, and a play that made its New York off-Broadway debut in 1998. She is also the webmaster of six websites. She is the co-founder of Sunweavers, Inc., a nonprofit educational corporation that networks writers, artists, and visionaries.

  • Ego Death
  • Expansion of Consciousness
  • Mystery Religions
  • Mystery Schools
  • Descent to the Underworld
  • Near-Death Experiences
  • Abrahamic Religions
  • Desert Experience

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)