Do you believe in reincarnation, and if so, does it matter? According to a 2018 Pew Research survey, 33% of Americans say they believe in reincarnation, yet it is beyond the range of ordinary polling to ask why this belief exists. In an age of faith, both East and West, a person’s daily life was deeply influenced by a religion’s teaching about the afterlife.
Questions of sin and redemption, karmic retribution, heavens and hells, and journeys through other bodies such as those of animals—these were pressing concerns for many centuries. Now in modern secular society, the question of surviving the extinction of the physical body has been channeled into belief versus science. We don’t ask if God finds us worthy to go to heaven so much as how credible a near-death experience might be according to the best research.
The scheme of belief versus science is something of a false divide, however. There has been credible research on reincarnation, which would surprise most people, including scientists. Pioneering studies were conducted by Ian Stevenson, chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of Virginia Medical School, who began investigating the phenomenon of young children who say they recall a past life. Hundreds of such cases were looked into with the aim of validating if the person they remembered being actually existed.