Dreams and culture

Cultural Insights — By on November 8, 2007 at 7:23 am

Are the nighttime dreams that we have influenced by the culture in which we live? That seems to be the intriguing suggestion in this recent article about dreams.

Nightmare content also shifts over time and across cultures. A young man in 21st-century America might not mind the occasional bawdy dream, but for St. Augustine, the fourth-century Christian philosopher, “sexual dreams were nightmares,” said Kelly Bulkeley, a dream researcher and visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. “He considered them threats to his faith.”

Cultural specifics can also tweak universal themes. Dr. Bulkeley and his colleagues have found that nightmares about falling through the air are common among women in Arab nations, perhaps for metaphorical reasons. “There’s such a premium in these countries on women remaining chaste, and the dangers of becoming a ‘fallen woman’ are so intense,” he said, “that the naturally high baseline of falling dreams is amped up even more.”

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