Signs of Reincarnation is a 15-week (semester-long) inter-disciplinary graduate-level introduction to reincarnation research and theory. It draws most heavily on psychical research and anthropology, religious studies, philosophy, and depth psychology. You will read original lectures and published articles and discuss them with your fellow participants in an online forum. The course is self-paced with an estimated time commitment of 6-8 hours per week, including the discussion periods. There may be additional requirements for students taking the course for credit.
Lectures and readings are provided as PDF files that may be downloaded and read on devices such as tablets and dedicated e-book readers. There is no required textbook, but you may want to consider purchasing Ian Stevenson’s Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation (2001) and Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation: Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged (1974/1980), to which frequent references are made.
The weekly discussion forums are intended for discussion among participants but a separate Q & A forum is provided for querying me about matters of substance. Other resources include a bibliography including all works cited in the lectures and a glossary of specialized terms used in the lectures and readings.
This course will give you a comprehensive and up-to-date acquaintance with serious reincarnation studies, especially of children who claim to remember previous lives. You will learn to assess reincarnation claims critically and come to appreciate the relation of beliefs to cases. You will learn how cases are investigated and analyzed and will be prepared to make your own contributions to the field.
The picture above is of an American girl with past-life memories at about the age she began to relate them.
Unit 1: Introduction to the Study of Reincarnation Signs
Lecture 1.1: What is Reincarnation? Different beliefs systems have different ideas about how reincarnation works. Before we can discuss the subject intelligibly, we must agree on some basic definitions.
Lecture 1.2: Signs of Reincarnation for the Tlingit. The Tlingit Indians of south-eastern Alaska check newborn babies for birthmarks and look for other signs of who they were before so that they may be reincorporated into Tlingit society.
Lecture 1.3: Challenge to Materialism. Reincarnation is usually treated as a religious belief but signs allow it to studied scientifically. The data provide a strong challenge to materialism, which would rule out the possibility of postmortem surival a priori.
Video 1: Have We Lived Before? This YouTube video documents the case of a Sri Lankan girl who claims to remember having lived before. The case is typical of those we will be studying in this course.
Unit 2: The Belief in Reincarnation
Lecture 2.1: Reincarnation and Tribal Society. About 50% of the world’s tribal societies have reincarnation beliefs and these beliefs are related to social practices in ways one does not find in more developed societies.
Lecture 2.2: A Brief History of the Belief in Rebirth, West and East. The belief in reincarnation developed out of tribal ideas independently in Greece and India. The notion of karma was introduced by the Indian tradition.
Lecture 2.3: Karma, God and the Individual in Reincarnation Theory. This lecture describes three resolutions of the Selection Problem, the problem of how new parents are selected in reincarnation.
Reading 2: Lives-Long Learning: Reincarnation Beliefs in England. Sociologists Tony Walter and Helen Waterhouse discuss findings from interviews with survey respondents regarding the effects of their beliefs in reincarnation.
Unit 3: Research Styles and Interpretive Frames
Lecture 3.1: Signs of Reincarnation Recorded before 1960. The same sorts of signs, including claims by children to remember previous lives, have been reported in relation to the belief in reincarnation for many centuries.
Lecture 3.2: Research Styles in Modern Reincarnation Studies. Ian Stevenson began to study of past-life memory claims in the 1960s. This lecture discusses ways reincarnation cases are studied today, from the field to the armchair.
Lecture 3.3: Critical and Interpretive Frames. Fraud, self-delusion, parental guidance, spirit possession and psi have been advanced as explanations for the reincarnation case data, but all fail to account for it adequately.
Reading 3: Deception and Self-Deception in Cases of the Reincarnation Type. Ian Stevenson and colleagues describe seven Asian reincarnation cases that at first appeared authentic but which investigation showed to be bogus.
Unit 4: Child Studies: Episodic Memories, Statements and Recognitions
Lecture 4: Child Studies:Involuntary Memories of Previous Lives. Children’s past-life memories closely resemble memories of the present life. Both classes are associative and mistakes are made under similar conditions.
Reading 4.1: The Case of Nazih Al-Danaf. Erlendur Haraldsson and Majd Abu-Izzeddin describe how a Lebanese Druze child’s statements and recognitions led to his being identified as the reincarnation of a specific deceased person.
Reading 4.2. Three Cases with Written Records Made before Verifications Ian Stevenson and Godwin Samararatne report three Sri Lankan cases in which written records were made prior to investigation and verification.
Reading 4.3: Memory and the Self. In this important article, memory researcher Michael Conway touches on many issues in present-life memory that are important also to past-life memory.
Unit 5: Child Studies: Behavioral Signs of Reincarnation
Lecture 5: The Child’s Behavioral Identification with the Previous Person. Children with past-life memories typically behave in ways reminiscent of the person whose life they recall.
Reading 5.1: Unusual Play in Young Children. Ian Stevenson documents ways in which children’s play in reincarnation cases may be related to the previous person’s vocation, avocation, or circumstances of death.
Reading 5.2: Burmese Children who Behave like Japanese Soldiers. Ian Stevenson and Jürgen Keil describe the striking behaviors of a series of children who said they had been Japanese soldiers killed in Burma during World War II.
Reading 5.3: Children Who Speak of Lives as Buddhist Monks. Erlendur Haraldsson and Godwin Samararatne report three cases of Sri Lankan children who claimed that they were Buddhist monks in their previous lives.
Unit 6: Physical Signs of Reincarnation
Lecture 6: Birthmarks and Other Physical Signs. Physical signs in reincarnation cases include similarities in features as such as stature and facial structure, in addition to birthmarks and congenital abnormalities.
Reading 6.1: The Case of Chatura Kanuraratne. Erlendur Haraldsson describes a Sri Lankan boy whose statements were written down before being confirmed and whose multiple birthmarks matched wounds noted in military records.
Reading 6.2: Bodily Malformations Attributed to Previous Lives. Satwant Pasricha and colleagues report a series of unusual cases with birth marks and birth defects, two from the United States.
Reading 6.3: Experimental Birthmarks: New Cases of an Asian Practice. Jim Tucker and Jürgen Keil discuss Thai and Burmese reincarnation cases in which marks made on dying or deceased bodies were reproduced as birthmarks.
Unit 7: Child Studies: The Interval between Death and Rebirth
Lecture 7: Signs of Discarnate Agency. Children’s intermission memories and other evidence suggest that an active consciousness survives bodily death.
Lecture 7.1: Searching for a Womb. Anthropologist Jean-Guy Goulet describes apparitions of spirits coming to be reborn in a Canadian first nations society.
Reading 7.2: Memories of the Intermission. Poonam Sharma and Jim Tucker analyze reincarnation cases with intermission memories. There are strong similarites to near-death experiences.
Reading 7.3: A Case of the Possession Type in India. In this important case reported by Ian Stevenson and colleagues, a reincarnating spirit replaces the one with which the subject was born.
Unit 8: Child Studies: Cross-Cultural and Cross-Historical Patterns
Lecture 8: The Interplay between Beliefs and Cases. Beliefs about reincarnation have a clear relationship to cases of apparent reincarnation but the association is not as strong as the psychosocial theory implies.
Reading 8.1: A Strength-of-Case Scale. Jim Tucker introduces a scale to measure the relative strength of reincarnation cases and reports features correlated with it.
Reading 8.2: Indian Cases Two Generations Apart. Satwant Pasricha and Ian Stevenson compare Indian cases from early in the twentieth century to later cases they investigated, finding them to be very similar in their main features.
Reading 8.3: Cases in South India: Why So Few Reports? Satwant Pasrcha addresses an important question: Why are there so many fewer reincarnation cases reported from South than from North India?
Unit 9: Child Studies: The Psychology of Past-Life Memory
Lecture 9: Psychological Issues in Past-Life Memory. Children who recall previous lives may be better rather than less well adjusted than their peers, but they may also have special needs stemming from their memories.
Reading 9.1: Psychological Evaluation of American Children with Past-Life Memories. Jim Tucker and F. Don Nidiffer found that American children with past-life memories tend to be more intelligent and better adjusted socially than the norm.
Reading 9.2: Nightmares in Western Children. Antonia Mills reports three cases of American and Canadian children with nightmares that seem to relate to previous lives.
Reading 9.3: Phobias in Children Who Claim to Remember Previous Lives. Ian Stevenson shows that phobias in children’s reincarnation cases nearly always correspond to the circumstances of the previous person’s death.
Unit 10: From Child to Adult: The Developmental Continuum
Lecture 10: Developmental Factors in Past-Life Memory. Past-life memories are expressed differently in adults than in children, but transitional cases show them to be related along a continuum.
Reading 10.1: Age and Stimulus in Past Life Memory Cases. In an examination of published cases, I found that the initial memories of older subjects are significantly more likely to have been cued than were those of younger subjects.
Reading 10.2: State of Consciousness Factors in Reincarnation Cases. D. Scott Rogo argues, contrary to my position, that child and adult forms of past-life memory are fundamentally different.
Reading 10.3: Search for Sharada. V. V. Akolkar describes his investigation of an important adult case previously reported by Stevenson and colleagues.
Unit 11: Fantasy and Fact in Age Regressions to “Previous Lives”
Lecture 11: Fantasy and Fact in Age Regression to “Previous Lives.” Age regressions under hypnosis are not a reliable way of learning about past lives, perhaps because they encounter psychological blocks against recall.
Reading 11.1: A Case of Xenoglossy under Hypnosis. Reserchers Ohkado and Okamoto describe a Japanese regression case in which a woman spoke responsively in Nepali..
Reading 11.2: Return to Amalfi and the Akashic Home. David Loye describes his regression experiences and attempts to validate them in Amalfi, Italy. He interprets his “hits” not as memories but as data retrieved from an Akashic information field.
Reading 11.3: Evidence for the Akaschic Field from Modern Consciousness Research. Stanislav Grof discusses cases of apparent past-life recall under the influence of LSD and argues that they are evidence in support of Ervin Laszlo’s Akashic Field theory.
Unit 12: The Contributions of Shamans, Mediums and Psychics
Lecture 12: Psychic Identification and Information Acquisition. Past-life identifications by shamans, psychics and mediums can be more reliable than memories arising under hypnosis, perhaps because they bypass psychological defenses.
Reading 12.1: Past-life Recall in Brazilian Spiritism. Stanley Krippner explores the role of past-life recall in Brazilian Spiritist psychotherapy for multiple personality disorder.
Reading 12.2: Past Life Readings as Religious Symbology. J. Gordon Melton shows that Edgar Cayce’s life readings were strongly influenced by Theosophical concepts.
Reading 12.3: Archetypal Synchronic Resonance. Jeffrey Mishlove and Brendan Engen draw on Jungian theory to explain the network of connections between people and lives expressed in age regressions and past-life readings.
Unit 13: Mind/Brain Relations, Survival of Death and Reincarnation
Lecture 13: Beyond Materialism. There is a great deal of evidence for a dualistic relationship between mind and body independent of the reincarnation data.
Reading 13.1: Terminal Lucidity: A Review and a Case Collection. Michael Nahm and colleagues describe numerous cases in which comatose and brain-damaged patients suddenly regained awareness shortly before they died.
Reading 13.2: A Communicator of the “Drop-In” Type in Iceland. Erlendur Haraldsson and Ian Stevenson report a case of mediumship with clear evidence of purpose from a discarnate agent whose identity was confirmed.
Reading 13:3: Children with Life-Between-Life Memories. Japanese researchers Ohkado and Ikegawa show the connections between memories of past-lives, the discarnate intermission period, and intra-uterine existence.
Unit 14: Postmortem Survival and Reincarnation: Philosophical Concerns
Lecture 14: Personal Identity and Discarnate Survival. Philosophers have long struggled with issues central to developing a satisfactory theory of reincarnation. The data point toward panpsychism as the most promising approach.
Reading 14.1: F. W. H. Myers’ Approach to the Problem of Survival. Emily Cook (now Emily Kelly) discusses Myers’ concept of consciousness as composed of subliminal and supraliminal strata and how he deployed this in survival theory.
Reading 14.2: Personal Identity and Survival. Philosopher C. D. Broad explains his idea of Ψ-components, or personality traits, and the role these might play in discarnate survival.
Reading 14.3: A Shared Dream Model of Reincarnation. Jim B. Tucker describes his model of the afterlife as a shared dream and how this relates to reincarnation.
Unit 15: The Process of Reincarnation
Lecture 15: Reincarnation and Life. An adequate theory of reincarnation must be able to explain a range of phenomena. It must supplement and yet not conflict with established findings in psychology and biology.
Reading 15.1: Changes in Heart Transplant Recipients. Peter Pearsall and his colleagues describe ten heart transplant recipients who took on personality traits of their donors.
Reading 15.2: Transphysical Process Metaphysics and Reincarnation. Eric M. Weiss discusses how his transphysical process metaphysics would account for reincarnation and past-life memory..
Reading 15.3: Psychoplasm as Mechanism. In this chapter from his book The Soul Genome, Paul Von Ward describes how he understands the reincarnation process to work.