The Principal Reincarnation Researchers

Jürgen Keil, Ph.D.


Herbert Hans Jürgen Keil was born in Freiburg, Germany, on May 30, 1930. As a young man he emigrated to Australia, settling on the island of Tasmania. He attended the University of Tasmania at Hobart and earned his B.A. degree in 1957, followed by a Dip. Ed. in 1959 and B.A. hons. in 1960. He was a Teaching Fellow in the university’s Department of Psychology for the 1960-1961 academic year and later a Lecturer in Psychology before earning his Ph.D. in Psychology from the same institution. He has now retired from teaching but retains the status of Emeritus Professor.

Keil supported himself during his undergraduate studies working part-time as a fitter and turner in the university’s machine shop. One of his tasks was to create some parts of a microbalance to be used in a professor’s experiments on psychokinesis (PK). To Keil’s astonishment, the experiments showed that some persons were able to influence the apparatus through mental intention alone. He became interested in parapsychology and wrote to J. B. Rhine at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. This led to his spending nine months at Rhine’s Parapsychology Laboratory in 1961-1962, after which he returned to teaching at the University of Tasmania. He remained actively engaged in parapsychology, however, contributing to several studies of what is called macro-PK (large-scale, observable PK) to distinguish it from micro-PK effects, which can only be measured statistically. Some of this work was with parapsychologist J. G. Pratt, a collection of whose writings he later edited and published as Gaither Pratt, a Life for Parapsychology.

Pratt spent the latter part of his career with Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia and this brought Keil into contact with Stevenson. Keil was not initially interested in Stevenson’s reincarnation research, but when Stevenson announced that he would provide funding for three investigators to study children who claimed to remember previous lives in an effort to “replicate” his findings, Keil signed on. In 1988 he went to Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Turkey to study 23 new cases. He reported this work in a solo publication (Keil, 1991) and in a joint report with the other two investigators, Antonia Mills and Erlendur Haraldsson (Mills, Haraldsson & Keil, 1994).

Keil has continued his studies of children with past-life memories since his introduction to them, concentrating on the same three countries. He and Stevenson compared features of cases they had independently investigated and showed them to be very similar (Keil & Stevenson, 1999), requiring some sort of “paranormal” explanation (Stevenson & Keil, 2000). Among their independently investigated cases were some of Burmese children who asserted that they had been Japanese soldiers who died in Burma during the Second World War (Stevenson & Keil, 2005). Keil also worked with Jim B. Tucker, M.D. in Thailand and Burma and reported another series of papers with him, including a case with a change of sex between the previous person and the subject (Tucker & Keil, 2001) and a study of “experimental birthmarks” (marks placed on the body of the deceased with the express purpose of tracking that person’s spirit into its next life) (Tucker & Keil, 2013). In another paper, Keil drew attention to “silent” cases, those which are very similar to cases with past-life memory claims but which consist only of “announcing dreams” (dreams in which a figure appears and announces its intention to be reborn to a particular woman) or physical signs such as birthmarks (Keil, 1996).

From the beginning of his work with children with apparent past-life memories, Keil recognized that they presented a real phenomenon and agreed with Stevenson’s conclusion that “normal” explanations were not adequate for them. But unlike the other principal reincarnation researchers, he is not confident that reincarnation is the best possible answer. Keil believes that birthmarks can be explained as maternal impressions (a mother’s influence on her baby’s body in utero) and that rather than remembering previous lives, the child subjects of these cases are somehow reaching out and absorbing psychic “thought bundles” left by deceased persons (Keil, 2010b).

Keil's publications on reincarnation are listed below.


Berger, A. S., & Berger, J. (1991). The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House.

Keil, J. (1987). Gaither Pratt, a Life for Parapsychology. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1987.

Pleasants, H. (Ed.) (1964).Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology. New York: Helix Press.

Publications on Reincarnation

Keil, [H. H.] J. (1991). New cases in Burma, Thailand, and Turkey: A limited field study replication of some aspects of Ian Stevenson's research. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 5, 27-59.

Keil, [H. H.] J. (1996). Cases of the reincarnation type: An evaluation of some indirect evidence with examples of “silent” cases. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 10, 467-485.

Keil, [H. H.] J. (2010a). A case of the reincarnation type in Turkey suggesting strong paranormal information involvements. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 24, 71–77.

Keil, [H. H.] J. (2010b). Questions of the reincarnation type. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 24, 79-99.

Keil, [H. H.] J., & Stevenson, I. (1999). Do cases of the reincarnation type show similar features over many years? A study of Turkish cases a generation apart. Journal of Scientific Exploration 13(2), 189-198.

Keil, [H. H.] J., & Tucker, J. B. (2000). An unusual birthmark case linked to a person who had previously died. Psychological Reports, 87, 1067-1074.

Keil, H. H. J., & Tucker, J. B. (2005). Children who claim to remember previous lives: Cases with written records made before the previous personality was identified. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 19, 91–101.

Keil, H. H. J., & Tucker, J. B. (2010). Response to “How to improve the study and documentation of cases of the reincarnation type? A reappraisal of the case of Kemal Atasoy.” Journal of Scientific Exploration, 24, 295–298.

Mills, A., Haraldsson, E., & Keil, H. H. J. (1994). Replication studies of cases suggestive of reincarnation by three independent investigators. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 88, 207-219.

Pasricha, S. K., Keil, [H. H.] J., Tucker, J. B., & Stevenson, I. (2005). Some bodily malformations attributed to previous lives. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 19, 359-383.

Stevenson, I., & Keil, [H. H.] J. (2000). The stability of assessments of paranormal connections in reincarnation cases. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 14, 365-382.

Stevenson, I., & Keil, [H. H.] J. (2005). Children of Myanmar who behave like Japanese soldiers: A possible third element in personality. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 19, 172-183.

Tucker, J. B., & Keil, H. H. J. (2001). Can cultural beliefs cause a gender identity disorder? Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 13, 21-30.

Tucker, J. B., & Keil, H. H. J. (2013). Experimental birthmarks: New cases of an Asian practice. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 27, 269–282.

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