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Ian Stevenson, academic investigator of reincarnation, dies

Ian Stevenson, who spent many years investigating alleged cases of reincarnation, has died at the age of 87. He was Canadian and qualified in medicine in 1943 at McGill University. He trained as a Freudian analyst but became unconvinced of the validity of Freud's theories and switched to psychiatry. He later became professor and chair of psychiatry at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

An interest in parapsychology led to his undertaking research in reincarnation. Typically, the kind of case he investigated involved a child who claimed to remember a previous existence. Most though not all the cases occurred in societies that accept reincarnation; in recent years more such cases have been turning up in the USA and Europe. (For my discussion of a case of this kind, see A case of purported past-life memory.)

A bequest allowed Stevenson to set up a unit to study these matters and members of his group are continuing with the work after his death. The research is of a high standard and is conducted with scientific rigour, though this has not prevented criticism from sceptics who find the whole idea of reincarnation to be absurd.

Stevenson was cautious about making firm conclusions although he is quoted as saying that the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable person to believe in reincarnation. Perhaps it is, but I hope he was wrong. The thought of coming back to the world after my death, to face war, instability, global warming and the rest is not reassuring.


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