Ian Stevenson and Cases of the Reincarnation Type

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Ian Stevenson and Cases of the Reincarnation Type
Division of Perceptual Studies
Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA e-mail: jbt8n@virginia.edu
Ian Stevenson began studying children who claim to remember previous lives— an endeavor that will surely be remembered as the primary focus of his life’s work—almost by accident. Enjoying a successful mainstream career with some
60 publications in the medical and psychiatric literature to his credit, he had become chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at the
University of Virginia in 1957. The following year, the American Society for
Psychical Research announced a contest in honor of William James for the best essay on‘‘the topic of paranormal mental phenomena and their relationship to the problem of survival of the human personality after bodily death.’’ Ian, who had said when he interviewed for the chairman position that he had an interest in parapsychology, had been intrigued by the concept of reincarnation and in his readings had come across reports of individuals claiming to have memories of previous lives, or‘‘apparent memories of former incarnations,’’ as he called them. The reports came from a number of sources, such as books, magazines, and newspapers. Ian analyzed 44 of them as a group in a paper that won the contest and was subsequently published in 1960 (Stevenson, 1960a,b).
He was impressed with the similarities in cases from different countries and different kinds of sources. As he told Tom Shroder years later,‘‘these forty-four cases, when you put them together, it just seemed inescapable to me that there must be something there.... I couldn’t see how they could all be faked or they could all be a deception’’(Shroder, 1999: 103). At the end of the paper, he wrote that more study of the…...

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