Dreaming in the World's Religions

A Comparative History

352 pages

July, 2008

ISBN: 9780814799574



Also available in


Kelly Bulkeley is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and is a former President of the Association for the Study of Dreams. His books include The Wilderness of Dreams: Exploring the Religious Meanings of Dreams in Modern Western Culture; An Introduction to the Psychology of Dreaming; Visions of the Night: Dreams, Religion, and Psychology; and The Wondering Brain: Thinking about Religion with and beyond Cognitive Neuroscience.

All books by Kelly Bulkeley

From Biblical stories of Joseph interpreting Pharoh’s dreams in Egypt to prayers against bad dreams in the Hindu Rg Veda, cultures all over the world have seen their dreams first and foremost as religiously meaningful experiences. In this widely shared view, dreams are a powerful medium of transpersonal guidance offering the opportunity to communicate with sacred beings, gain valuable wisdom and power, heal suffering, and explore new realms of existence. Conversely, the world’s religious and spiritual traditions provide the best source of historical information about the broad patterns of human dream life

Dreaming in the World’s Religions provides an authoritative and engaging one-volume resource for the study of dreaming and religion. It tells the story of how dreaming has shaped the religious history of humankind, from the Upanishads of Hinduism to the Qur’an of Islam, from the conception dream of Buddhas mother to the sexually tempting nightmares of St. Augustine, from the Ojibwa vision quest to Australian Aboriginal journeys in the Dreamtime. Bringing his background in psychology to bear, Kelly Bulkeley incorporates an accessible consideration of cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary psychology into this fascinating overview.

Dreaming in the World’s Religions offers a carefully researched, accessibly written portrait of dreaming as a powerful, unpredictable, often iconoclastic force in human religious life.


  • ”The scope of Bulkeley’s knowledge is impressive, as is his skill at synthesizing ideas from a variety of source material.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • ”Such a chronological/regional organization, along with the author's careful, scholarly prose, makes this practical as a classroom textbook...for interested readers and students, there are notes and an ample bibliography to stimulate further study. Recommended for academic libraries and public libraries with strong religion collections.”

    Library Journal

  • ”A pleasure to read, well written and full of fascinating examples. It is unique in combining a sensitive and sympathetic understanding of the religious meanings of dreams with a state-of-the-art treatment of the insights that cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary psychology bring to our understanding of them.”

    —Wendy Doniger, author of Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities

  • ”Offers a sophisticated, yet easily accessible and engaging discussion of how and in what way dreams and a broad range of the worlds religions have enjoyed mutual influence throughout history.”

    —Nina P. Azari, Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia of Religions and Sciences

  • "Psychoanalysis and phenomenology combine to understand dreams and dreaming as comprehended by a geographically and temporally wide spectrum of global and regional religions. Bulkeley argues that scientific understandings are not unique in their reflective critique of the nature or value of dreaming, that critical reflection on dreams can be found in a variety of traditions, and that even where evidence for formal analysis is lacking, dreams are categorized by type and value."


  • "The chronological/regional organization, along with the author’s careful, scholarly prose, makes this practical as a classroom textbook."

    Library Journal

  • "With this original and provacative book, Bulkeley has shown what the 'new' comparative study of religion at its very best can offer."

    —Kimberley C. Patton, History of Religions

  • "From the American Indian ritual of the vision quest to the Muslim prayer and dream-incubation practice of istikhara, there have been cultural traditions of enhancing people's awareness of their dreams and deriving insights from them.  Modern researchers can learn from such practices and combine them with today's technologies, using new tools to fulfill an ancient pursuit."

    —Kelly Bulkeley , New York Times