Hermeneutic of Trust at the End of Life - Imaginative Experience and Symbolic
Communication in Facing Death - NRP 67

The project is a part of the National Research Program NRP 67 - End of Life - of the Swiss National Science Foundation

Project Leader

  •  Prof. Dr. Pierre Bühler, Leiter des Instituts für Hermeneutik und Religionsphilosophie, Universität Zürich
  • Prof. em. Dr. Brigitte Boothe, Klinische Psychologie, Psychotherapie und Psychoanalyse, Universität  Zürich
  • Prof. Dr. Ingolf U. Dalferth, Universität Zürich, Lehrstuhl für Systematische Theologie, Symbolik und Religionsphilosophie
  • Dr. theol. Andreas Hunziker, Geschäftsführender Oberassistent am Instituts für Hermeneutik und Religionsphilosophie, Universität Zürich
  • Prof. Dr. Ralph Kunz, Universität Zürich, Lehrstuhl für Praktische Theologie, Universität Zürich
  • Prof. Dr. Simon Peng-Keller, Institut für Hermeneutik und Religionsphilosophie, Universität Zürich

Contact

Prof. Dr. Simon Peng-Keller
Institute of Hermeneutics and Philosophy of Religion
Kirchgasse 9, 8001 Zürich
Tel.: +41 44 634 54 00
E-Mail: simon.peng-keller@theol.uzh.ch


Project

At the end of life, patients often experience uncontrollable events and processes. These often include symbolic imagery as a form of experience. When all action has reached its limits, imaginative ranges of understanding and behaviour open up that are important for trust at the end of life. This project aims to elaborate orientation knowledge and provide help to interpretation for spiritual and pastoral care of the dying.  

Background
In pastoral and spiritual care it is often difficult to understand the highly symbolic things that dying persons say and to respond appropriately. Persons near death often describe unusual, imaginative experiences or use symbolic language to express themselves. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for end-of-life care. The relation between trust and symbolic communication in such situations has not been studied very much. This project seeks to close this gap.

Aim
The study aims to understand how trust influences behaviour and perception in dying processes. For this reason, the study will investigate different ways in which persons express near-death imaginative experience. This includes, in particular, dreams of dying, death-bed visions and near-death experiences. We will examine the extent to which imaginative experience and symbolic communication near death aid self-interpretation and the processing of the experienced loss of control. Methodologically, the study is based on narratives of experiences, such as dreams and visions, as experienced by persons near death.

Significance
The project will lead to a deeper understanding of trust-based coping strategies near death and the symbolic language of the death experience. In this way, we will gain orientation knowledge and provide help to interpretation for spiritual and pastoral care of the dying. The study wants to make a contribution towards better spiritual and pastoral care in Switzerland. 

In this study we will be looking closely at and interpreting phenomena that clearly play an important role for the dying but that have received little attention in research. This has been the case even though these phenomena clearly have an important function at the end of life when it comes to processing momentous experiences, such as loss of control or fear of death.