I received a B. A. in English from Emory University in 1977 and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale in 2002. I have worked at the American Society for Psychical Research in New York City and at the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina. I am presently affiliated with the latter. My chief research interests are the history of parapsychology, anthropology of religion, and reincarnation. I teach a 15-week graduate-level seminar course, Signs of Reincarnation, that covers serious research on reincarnation, and am developing a 6-week introductory course on past-life memory.
Memories of Previous Lives
More and more Westerners are becoming comfortable with discussing the past-life memories of themselves and their children. You see these memories recounted in Facebook posts, YouTube videos, popular books and other forums. This trend toward greater openness is very welcome, because past-life memories have remained underground for too long in Western culture. Our religions deny and our sciences seem to rule out the possibility of reincarnation, and so these memories have often been suppressed. This has had an unfortunate result. Because we do not normally share them with each other, we do not realize how they common they are, and people (children and adults) who experience them often do not know how to deal with them.
Research on Past-Life Memories
Systematic research on past-life memories began with Ian Stevenson in the early 1960s and is continued today by Jim B. Tucker, Erlendur Haradsson, Antonia Mills and others. These researchers not only collect accounts of reincarnation experiences, but investigate them in the field, whenever possible matching the memories to a deceased person. We now have a substantial number of verified cases of past-life memory and this has allowed us to see how they relate to other signs of reincarnation, such as otherwise inexplicable behaviors and phobias, birthmarks, and congenital physical abnormalities. We are also beginning to understand something of how reincarnation works, how it relates to psychology and biology, and how it interacts with culture. Yet this fascinating and important research is little known outside a small group of investigators. One of my goals for this site is to make the research more visible and to communicate its findings to a wider audience, both popular and academic.
The Cross-Cultural Perspective
The belief in reincarnation is widespread in the world. Most Westerners know that Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism teach reincarnation, but fewer realize that reincarnation is a tenet of several Shia Islamic sects, the Ultra-Orthodox branch of Judaism, and many indigenous tribal societies. The details of the beliefs vary, but interestingly, all are associated with the same set of signs, including memories of previous lives. It seems likely that the belief in reincarnation originated as a conclusion drawn from the signs, although nowadays when the signs appear they help to support the belief. As the increasing number of Western reports shows, however, the signs may appear without supporting beliefs, so there is no necessary relation between the signs and the beliefs. The relation of reincarnation beliefs to experience is another central concern of this site.