Approaches to Reincarnation Research

By Qiangceng Li
Created: April 7, 2010 Last Updated: October 26, 2012
Related articles: Science » Beyond Science
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Reincarnation is a subject that attracts a lot of interest but is difficult to study rigorously. In 1882, scholars and members of spiritual organizations founded the Society for Psychical Research in London. One of its major goals was to investigate, publicize, and describe those phenomena that provided evidence for the existence of life after the death of one’s physical body.

From 1882 to 1930, French and Italian members of the society discovered several cases in which people could recall activities in their previous lives. Some cases had been investigated for an extended period of time and were quite convincing. The type of methodology used for these people to recall their previous lives was followed up with further investigation by researchers using traditional psychiatric methods.

Introduction of Hypnotherapy

A technique used in reincarnation research was hypnotherapy. One of the most famous investigators of supernormal phenomena in France, Colonel Albert de Rochas was the first to use a systematic hypnotherapy approach to induce subjects to recall memories of previous lives. Rochas found that even if subjects expressed little interest in reincarnation, they could still remember activities from previous lives. Rochas summarized his discovery in a paper published in 1905.

In 1956, amateur hypnotist Morey Bernstein’s famous book on reincarnation, The Search for Bridey Murphy, was published. In this book, Bernstein presented to his readers one of his hypnotherapy cases. Readers and investigators alike were fascinated by his presentation of the concepts of reincarnation and the extent of hypnotic regression therapy occurring in the United States and in other parts of the world.

The broad appeal and acceptance of this book indicated that reincarnation studies had found a legitimate place in modern Western science and prepared the stage for further reincarnation research.

In 1960, Dr. Ian Stevenson, a famous psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, published an eye-opening and award-winning paper, “Evidence on Memories of Previous Lives,” in the Journal of American Psychical Research. This paper was considered a prelude to modern research on reincarnation conducted in Western countries.

Since that time, Stevenson has devoted all of his efforts to further reincarnation research. In the following 40 years, he collected more than 2,600 reincarnation cases from all around the world, and published 10 books and numerous research papers of which many were considered by other researchers to be seminal works in the field of reincarnation.

Though Stevenson used strictly traditional psychiatric methodology, both traditional and nontraditional researchers cite his books and articles in their publications. Stevenson’s serious attitude, cautious style, and outstanding academic position won him unprecedented respect from the society for his research on reincarnation.

The formal use of hypnotic regression therapy in published reincarnation research began with Denys Kelsey and Joan Grant’s book, Many Lifetimes. Kelsey, a famous therapist and member of the British Royal Medical Institute, worked closely with Grant, his wife, who was said to have supernormal abilities. Together they laid the foundation for research on reincarnation using nontraditional hypnotic regression techniques.

Notables in the Field

There are other notable and well-known researchers in the field of reincarnation. A few examples include Dr. Helen Wambach, who took the approach of hypnotizing not just one subject but many people at the same time. She summarized her findings based upon a large amount of data and drew her conclusions from those that specifically related to reincarnation.

Dr. Morris Netherton introduced a method in a book called Past Lives Therapy that emphasized key words and sentences from his subjects’ self-written reports.

Dr. Edith Fiore carefully focused her work on cases related to possession and developed a therapy that dealt specifically with possession.

Dr. D. Scott Rogo provided a summary of research on reincarnation prior to 1985 and pointed out the essence of the debate between reincarnation researchers and skeptics.

Dr. Joel Whitton noted and conducted research on cases involving the psychological phenomenon of knowing a foreign language without ever studying it.

Dr. Roger Woolger, a researcher of broad interests with a particularly deep understanding of analytical psychology, developed a research ideology for reincarnation that emphasized both theory and practice.

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  • Knut Holt

    Reincarnation is probably a reality. But the traditional concept of salvation and karma where everything one does in one life is written in a cosmic book and all sins, which are virtually everything one does from lust, anger or greed, has to be paid back in form of punishment in the next life is surely not right. This is a concept invented by leaders to make people easy to manipulate. However, that one life has influences upon oneself that one carries over to next life in some way or other, is probably true.


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