Approaches to Reincarnation Research in Western Countries

Qiangceng Li

PureInsight | January 20, 2003

[] Have "legitimate" western scientists looked into the possibility that reincarnation actually happens? As one might imagine, it's a subject that attracts a lot of interest but is difficult to study rigorously. In 1882 scholars and members of spiritual organizations founded an international organization in London, England, the Society for Psychical Research. 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 by these people to recall their previous lives was followed up with further investigation by researchers using traditional psychiatric methods. Another methodology used in reincarnation research was a technique called hypnotherapy. One of the most famous investigators of supernormal phenomena in France, Col. 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 the subject 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 Morey Bernstein's famous book on reincarnation was published, The Search for Bridey Murphy. In this book the author presented to his readers one of his own hypnotherapy cases. Readers and investigators were fascinated by Bernstein's presentation of the concepts of reincarnation and the extent of hypnotic regression therapy occurring in the U.S 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 the rise in popularity of further reincarnation research.

In 1960, Professor Ian Stevenson, a famous psychiatrist at the University of Virginia in the U.S., 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, Professor Stevenson has devoted all of his efforts to further reincarnation research. In the following forty years, he collected more than 2600 reincarnation cases from all around the world, and published ten 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, traditional and non-traditional researchers cite his books and articles in their publications, the most commonly cited being Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and Children who Remember Previous Lives. Professor Stevenson's serious attitude, cautious style, and outstanding academic position won him unprecedented respect for his research on reincarnation from the whole of society.

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 in 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 the non-traditional hypnotic regression techniques.

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 the 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 the research on reincarnation prior to 1985 and pointed out the essence of the debate between reincarnation researchers and their opponents. Dr. Joel Whitton noted and conducted research on cases involving a unique psychological phenomenon, that of knowing a foreign language without ever studying it. Dr. Roger Woolger, a researcher of broad interests with a particularly deep understanding of Jungian psychology, developed a research ideology for reincarnation that emphasized both theory and practice.

We will consider some of the evidence about reincarnation on these pages from time to time.

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