Religion and Dreams
Religion and Dreams(dreams)
The relationship between religion and dreams can be examined on several different levels. The attitude of each religious tradition about the significance of dreams is dealt with in respective entries on those religions. On a less parochial level, one can ask how the common human experience of dreaming might help shape a religious concept of the world. Specifically, because dreams often seem to be experiences of a confusing parallel world, it is not unreasonable to speculate that during dreams we travel to a real, alternative world. It has also been hypothesized that one of the principal sources of the idea of a spiritual world distinct from the physical is dreams. If this hypothesis is true, then dreams contribute to one of the basic notions of most world faiths.
It has also been postulated that at least one of the sources of the idea of a soul distinct from the body is dreams. During dreams, one has the experience of traveling to other realms, interacting with people, and doing various things; simultaneously, the physical body remains confined in bed. While the dream realm is shadowy and surreal, it nevertheless feels like a place apart from the world of everyday experience. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to speculate that during dreams the conscious self somehow separates from the body. If we add to this the common experience of meeting departed friends and relatives in dreams, it is no giant step to conclude that the same “soul” that separates from the body during dreams also survives the death of the body. If this hypothesis is correct, then dreams also contribute to the idea of a soul as it has traditionally been formulated in most world religions.
Yet another broad area of agreement among world religions is that communication between this world and other realms—between the divine and mortals, or between the living and the dead—is possible, although there is disagreement about the details of this interaction. For example, the founders of new sects often claim to receive privileged communications from God. If dreams are taken to be experiences of the realm of the spirit, then one possible mode of divine-human communication is the encounters with others that we have in dreams.