The Psychological and Cultural Interpretation of Dreams

What do you and I have in common with the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt?

We all dream.

According to UMKC Sociology and Anthropology Professor, Dr. Jeffrey Bennett, while pharaohs’ dreams were interpreted as divine messages from the gods, our dreams hold significantly less influence here in the West.

In a seminar Bennett held last Tuesday, called “The Psychological and Cultural Interpretation of Dreams”, he told audience members about the usefulness surrounding the analysis and interpretation of dreams across different cultures and fields of study.

Not all human groups have made sense of dreams the same way,” Bennett explained.

In many cultures, dreams continue to be an essential part of government, religion and society as a whole, particularly in Eastern countries. The Asabano of Papua New Guinea come together every morning and sit together to discuss and interpret one another’s dreams from the night before.

Dr. Jeffrey Bennett

Bennett told the story of his first-hand experience with the significance of dreams in India. While studying death and ghosts in the holy city of Benares, a woman came knocking on his door one morning. She was terrified of a dream she’d had of Bennett’s death. and begged him to come with her. So, he went. The woman took him to a temple where many holy and purifying rituals were performed to protect him.

Dr. Bennett called the experience “beautiful” and “enlightening.”

Dreaming isn’t just relevant to sociologists or anthropologists. Psychologists, including the famous Sigmund Freud, have used various methods of dream interpretations and research to help their patients. Neurologists also have interest in dreams, conducting sleep studies to learn more about dreams and their significance, Bennett said.

Unfortunately, Bennett said researchers in different fields tend not to share their findings with those in other disciplines, but he is hopeful for the integration of dream research across multiple fields of study.

It just seems that sharing this knowledge across these fields can only be a good thing,” Bennett said.

If dreams are something that interests you, Bennett will be teaching a class next semester called “Culture, Emotion, Identity.”

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