Ian Stevenson, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, has devoted his career to the study of cases suggestive of reincarnation. The cases consist of narratives of young children who claim to remember past lives. The cases occur primarily in India, Sri Lanka, South Asia, West Africa, Lebanon, and among Northwestern Native Americans, in cultures and religions in which reincarnation is accepted. Stevenson and his colleagues have collected over 2000 such narratives, but only a much smaller number provide what he considers "strong" evidence.

In the latter cases, Stevenson has performed detailed, nearly contemporaneous investigations that appear to rule-out communication of any kind between the child's family and the relatives of the recently deceased person the child claims to be. In addition, many of the "strong" cases have birth defects or birthmarks at the exact sites of traumatic injuries in the deceased person's life.

This book is a shortened and popularized version of a scientific monograph entitled Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects (also published by Praeger Press in 1997). Stevenson categorizes his cases by strength of evidence for a precisely located traumatic injury in the deceased person (i.e. simply remembered by the family, identified in medical records, or verified at autopsy). He also categorizes cases by the size and nature of the child's defect or birthmark.

In each chapter he presents a series of short narratives summarizing cases in a particular category, and comments on the weight and possible interpretations of the evidence. In Chapter 26 Stevenson analyzes a variety of explanations (including normal and paranormal possibilities), and concludes that the strongest of his cases are best explained by accepting the hypothesis of reincarnation (i.e. the discarnate personality of a recently dead person influencing the personality of a newborn child).


Stevenson's entire research program falls outside the realm of "normal" science. While he strictly adheres to the scientific method in gathering and analyzing his data, his willingness to consider various "paranormal" explanations for the phenomenon that he studies places him outside the realm of orthodoxy. In essence, the concept of reincarnation is considered so thoroughly improbable that even large amounts of credible evidence for which there is no other reasonable explanation fail to convert reincarnation into a "reasonable" hypothesis. From this point of view, Stevenson fails as a scientist not because his work lacks rigor, but because he entertains unacceptable hypotheses.

Stevenson's primary source of data is his subjects' narratives. His methodology involves collecting detailed narratives from subjects and family members, then "testing" those narratives by comparing a great number of items in the remembered past lives with items in the lives of identifiable deceased persons. In other words, he attempts to "objectify" subjective data by demonstrating that the subject tells a personal story that is actually someone else's story, even though there is no way the subject could have learned it.

In this book Stevenson supplements his narrative methodology with objective physical findings. In the strongest cases, he is able to correlate a congenital defect in a subject with a physical abnormality at the same location in the "previous self" at the time he or she died.



Place Published

Westport, Conn.



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