and Dr. Ken Ring's
NDE Reincarnation Research
is a former student at the University
of Connecticut and wrote a research
paper based on her study of the near-death
experience for her senior honors thesis
under the direction of
Her paper was published in the
Near-Death Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1.
in the fall of 1993. In her study, 70
percent of the group of near-death experiencers
demonstrated belief in reincarnation.
In contrast, a Gallup Poll found that
only 23 percent of the general population
endorse this belief. Previous research
has indicated that, following a near-death
experience, the group tended to exhibit
a significant shift in their beliefs
on a wide range of subjects including
a general tendency toward an increased
openness to the idea of reincarnation.
Ms. Wells' study was designed to examine
the factors underlying this belief shift.
The following are some excerpts from
her study reprinted by permission.
Table of Contents
have found that near-death experiences
(NDEs) tend to increase belief in
reincarnation. This study was designed to
examine the factors underlying this belief
shift. I used a questionnaire to compare the
tendency toward belief in reincarnation
among NDErs, individuals merely interested
in NDEs, and a non-experiencer, non-interest
control group. In addition, I interviewed 14
NDErs to gain insight into the factors
influencing NDErs' beliefs. NDErs'
reincarnation belief shift appeared to be
due to (a) direct knowledge of reincarnation
gained by some NDErs in the NDE itself;
knowledge of reincarnation gained through a
general psychic awakening following the NDE;
or (c) exploration of alternative
perceptions of reality following the NDE.
2. Reincarnation Beliefs Among NDErs
has indicated that following a near-death
experience (NDE), experiencers tend to
exhibit a significant shift in their beliefs
on a wide range of subjects, including an
increased acceptance of others, a
significantly greater belief in life after
death, and a decreased emphasis on material
success. These belief changes have also
included a general tendency toward an in
creased openness to the idea of
reincarnation (Gallup and Proctor, 1982;
It is this belief shift that was the focus
of the present study. The question of what
precipitates the shift toward belief in
reincarnation has not yet been
systematically addressed in the literature.
In this study, I attempted to answer this
question and, additionally, to determine if
a consistent picture of the purpose and
process of reincarnation would emerge from
the accounts of near-death experiencers.
Previous researchers such as Kenneth Ring
have suggested that near-death experiencers'
increased openness toward the idea of
reincarnation may be less a factor of the
NDE itself than a result of life changes
following the experience:
there is no reason why an NDEr's
openness toward reincarnation must
stem directly from his NDE. In fact,
I am quite convinced that in many
cases it is more likely to be a
response to an NDEr's reading and
other life experiences following an
NDE." (Ring, 1984, p. 160)
Ring's study also
suggested that belief in or openness to
reincarnation among NDErs was often
accompanied by a more general endorsement of
Eastern religions. This has also been noted
in the work of
Cherie Sutherland (1992).
Other researchers (Twemlow, Gabbard, and
Jones, 1982) found a similar shift in
religious beliefs among individuals having
not near-death experiences but
experiences. Thus it is possible that the
NDE is simply one of many catalysts for an
increased openness to reincarnation. In
fact, it has been suggested that simply an
interest in near-death phenomena can serve
as a catalyst for many of the value changes
expressed by NDErs, including an increased
openness to the idea of reincarnation (K.
Ring, personal communication, 1991).
If it is true
that the NDE influences individuals'
reincarnation beliefs simply by causing
them to consider new religions or spiritual
ideas, then one would expect that
individuals who exhibited an interest in the
NDE would also be prompted to undergo a
similar belief shift. If, on the other hand,
it is something inherent in the NDE itself
that leads individuals to consider the
possibility of reincarnation, then one would
expect that individuals who were merely
interested in such phenomena but who had not
experienced it themselves would have
reincarnation beliefs that differed
significantly from those of near-death
experiencers and would instead be similar to
those of individuals who have no such
interest in NDEs.
In this study,
questionnaires were used to determine the
reincarnation beliefs of a group of NDErs, a
group of subjects who were interested in
near-death experiences but had not had an
NDE, and also a group of subjects who were
chosen to represent the general
non-experiencer, non-interest population.
Interviews of NDErs were also conducted to
gain a deeper insight into the origins and
structure of their beliefs concerning
3. Interview Data: NDErs' Belief in
A review of my
interview data revealed that 13 of the 14
NDErs either believed in reincarnation or
were at least open to the idea. Seven of the
NDErs I interviewed did not believe in
reincarnation before their experience, but
did believe in it afterwards. Four
individuals did not believe in reincarnation
before their NDE or afterwards. However,
although these respondents did not
definitely believe in reincarnation, they
were at least open to the possibility. Two
individuals had considered reincarnation
prior to their NDE, but the experience led
them to change the way they looked at it;
one subject now believed in reincarnation on
more of a collective level rather than as an
individual process, and the other came to
think about reincarnation more seriously and
consider it more in depth following his
experience. One subject did not believe in
reincarnation before her NDE, and the
experience had no effect on her views.
No strong common
pattern of beliefs about the process or
purpose of reincarnation surfaced in my
interviews. However, a few commonalities
were seen in some of the respondents'
answers. No one claimed to have gained any
direct understanding of the nature or
process of reincarnation during his or her
NDE. Three of the 14 respondents, however,
claimed a "sense" or "perception" during
their experience of having lived before.
Only one respondent claimed to have had a
past lives review, in which she
re-experienced events from a past life,
during an NDE.
4. The Nature of Reincarnation
In response to
the question about the general process of
reincarnation, four respondents mentioned
one consciousness separating into
individual souls to be embodied in matter.
One respondent took this idea further, to
state that reincarnation takes place more on
a collective rather than an individual
level. In other words, she felt that a
collective energy recycles itself through
matter and that our sense of individuality
is a product of our present incarnation
only. One respondent believed that a higher
power created a finite number of individual
souls, some of which then are placed in
human embodiments in order to learn lessons.
A strong minority
of respondents, six of 14, saw individual
choice as the initiating force behind the
reincarnation process. Three other
individuals mentioned karmic patterns or
ties to other souls as influencing the
Eight of 14
subjects mentioned learning or enlightenment
as the main purpose underlying
reincarnation. One respondent said, "The
spirit needs to embody itself in matter to
experience it and learn. There are karmic
patterns to learn lessons and to work spirit
commented, "Life itself is a series of
learnings. The lessons are universal, the two
most important being truth and forgiveness."
Ten of 14
interviewees believed it is possible to
remember past lives, while two remained
unsure and one saw claims of past life
remembrances as most likely the result of
Eleven of 14
subjects believed in the concept of karma or
at least were open to it. Five of the 11,
however, qualified their affirmation with
further explanation of their beliefs:
not in that sense. We progress at
our own rate to reach the light. If
you do things that take you away
from the light, then you are
perpetuating your time here."
"[I] don't believe in karma as
some people do - that it is
pre-destiny. We have karma but we
can change it."
misunderstood; it's not just
negative. Everything is karma, even
carry over to some degree, but the
emphasis is not so much on the
physical act, but more on what is
going on inside."
"Definitely, but there are no rights
or wrongs - it just is. We all have
light and dark and we need to
balance them out."
When asked what
goes on during the period between
incarnations, seven subjects mentioned
learning as the main activity of the soul.
Four mentioned resting, rejuvenation, and/or
connecting with God, and one subject
indicated that individuals are involved in
setting up the circumstances of their next
life during this time. When asked if one's
personal awareness and sense of personal
identity remained intact in the afterlife
realm and for how long, two subjects
answered affirmatively, one believing that
the personality would continue forever and
the other unsure as to how long this sense
of "self' would remain.
The majority of
respondents, however, eight out of 14, gave
more qualified endorsements of this
proposition. Here are three examples of
The inner quality is there, the
inner self remains, but the external
aspect that may have seemed very
strong is dissolved."
"Individuality wasn't the same
there. I was the same as everybody
and everybody was me."
spirit is always you. You are not
the personality that you are on
earth. In the other realm you are
everything, light is everything."
Finally, eight of
the 14 respondents said that they felt the
cycle of reincarnation would eventually come
to an end. They indicated that at this point
there would be existence as pure spiritual
being and/or a merging with God. One
respondent said, "Then you exist as pure
spiritual form, as a pure spiritual being."
Another responded, "You become an integral
part of God. When everyone reaches that
point it is nirvana." Two of 14 subjects
indicated that the cycle of reincarnation
would probably come to an end for earthly
embodiments, but that one would continue to
incarnate into other realms or dimensions.
5. Factors Underlying the Shift Toward
Belief in Reincarnation
A more definite
pattern emerged in the subjects' responses
to the question about which factors led to
the change in their reincarnation beliefs.
Three causes for changes in beliefs in a
direction favorable to reincarnation were
One cause for
this belief shift, for which I found only
limited evidence in this study, is direct
knowledge imparted during the NDE itself.
Three of my 14 interview subjects claimed to
have a "sense" that they had lived before
during their NDE. For two of my subjects
this factor would qualify as the main event
influencing their reincarnation beliefs.
One subject, however, had several NDEs and
also exhibited a significant psychic
awakening, involving direct information
concerning reincarnation, following her
experiences. She claimed to have had a
past-lives review during one NDE, but did
not indicate which one. Therefore, I do not
know which came first: the direct
reincarnation knowledge through her psychic
awakening, or the past-lives review. Thus, I
do not know for certain which was the
influencing factor in her belief shift.
However, because her post-NDE experiences
were so many, so extensive, and obviously so
influential in her beliefs, it is more
likely these experiences, rather than her
NDE past-lives review, that shaped her
beliefs, and she is consequently categorized
The second cause
for the reincarnation shift was found in
events taking place after the NDErs'
experience that seemed to be part of a
general psychic awakening. This general
psychic awakening has been documented by
other researchers as well (Greyson, 1983;
Ring, 1985). Ring presented this idea as his
"spiritual catalyst" hypothesis, which
implies that NDEs tend to lead to psychic
development. For five of the 14 subjects in
this study it was this psychic awakening
following their NDE, rather than the
experience itself, that provided them with
direct knowledge of reincarnation. One
of these events, I call mine kind of
a two-part event, because I had the
NDE in 1979, and then another car
accident in 1985 that brought about
what I call a
which is similar to an NDE without
the death part of the physical body.
So, what happened to me is, before
either of these experiences happened
I didn't believe in reincarnation at
all ... After these experiences what
one of the things that happened to
me was I started getting memories of
my own past lives. A lot of times
just spontaneously something would
trigger it and I'd get this memory,
and I see visions, and then I
started getting them of other
experiencers noted similar phenomena:
come about from the experience but
afterwards, since then. [I've
received] messages, my
brother-in-law [deceased] had a
message ... that his soul would be
reincarnated into my sister's son."
"I had ongoing experiences after
the near-death experience. In that
after process I experienced souls.
On one occasion it's like I followed
a soul, went through a process with
a soul, in how they were reborn, how
it came about that they were
Finally, as the
third source of the reincarnation belief
shift, the NDE opened the individual up to
greater possibilities in his or her
perception of reality. It made them more
willing to explore a wider range of
spiritual possibilities, including
reincarnation. This exploration was manifest
in the form of reading, discussions with
others, and personal reflection. Six of my
14 subjects fell into this category. One
respondent said of her NDE:
up a dimension that I never really
NDE] didn't help me conclude
anything, it just threw the doors of
possibility wide open."
Still another said:
even know what reincarnation was
before I had an NDE. It was
afterwards that I was led to find
out what it was. Some of the things
I'm telling you [about
reincarnation] came out in other
conversations and some in the
reading that I've done, and some
just thoughts I've had. And it made
total sense to me."
And finally one
woman I interviewed said:
given it [reincarnation] much
thought before that [her NDE]. I was
brought up in a fairly conventional
religion - Catholicism. I was not a
particularly practicing Catholic at
the time, but more or less hadn't
explored much Eastern philosophy.
After the experience, I did. I read
a great deal of different
philosophies, not just Eastern, but
all of them, and found that it
[reincarnation] was plausible."
In this study, 70
percent of the sample of NDErs demonstrated
belief in reincarnation. In contrast, a
Gallup Poll (Gallup and Proctor, 1982) found
that only 23 percent of the general
population endorse this belief, while 30
percent of my control group help views
favorable to reincarnation. These data
confirm the findings of earlier studies with
respect to NDErs' reincarnation beliefs.
While I found that the near-death
experiencer group exhibited a significantly
greater tendency toward belief in
reincarnation than my general public sample,
I also found that my NDE interest group
exhibited beliefs that did not differ
significantly from those of the NDErs. These
data are consistent with the hypothesis that
there is nothing inherent in the near-death
experience itself that causes the shift in
experiencers' beliefs about reincarnation.
data failed to reveal any consistent pattern
among NDErs' beliefs about the purpose or
process of reincarnation. There were, as I
already noted, many similarities, but no one
"truth" emerged. Furthermore, the beliefs
expressed by the NDErs in my study are not
unique; they tended to follow the standard
view of reincarnation as expressed in much
of the New Age literature. By way of
example, the following excerpts taken from
Irving S. Cooper's book, Reincarnation.: A
Hope of the World (1979), are representative
of this view and are quite similar to many
of the statements made by my NDE sample:
purpose of reincarnation is
education. To this end we are born
again and again on earth, not
because of any external pressure,
but because we, as souls, desire to
grow." (p. 14)
"It is a
universal process, and prevails not
only in the human kingdom but
throughout the whole of nature.
Whenever we find a living form, the
consciousness of that form is also
evolving, using temporarily for that
purpose the physical form in order
that it may gain physical
experience." (p. 19)
each incarnation we have a different
physical body, a different name, and
may have different souls acting as
parents, but these changes do not in
the slightest imperil our
individuality." (p. 24)
"Reincarnation is not an endless
process, and when we have learned
the lessons taught in the
World-School we return no more to
physical incarnation unless we come
back of our own accord to act as
Teachers of humanity or as Helpers
in the glorious plan of evolution."
With respect to the
question of what in fact underlies the
reincarnation belief shift, I can offer
three possibilities suggested by my data,
but which would require further research to
verify. First, in some cases, it does seem
to be the NDE itself that influences one's
reincarnation views. Although I did not find
extensive evidence for this in my study, it
has been documented by other researchers
(Morse and Perry, 1992;
Ring, 1985). In
those cases, individuals claimed to have
received direct knowledge of reincarnation
during the NDE itself. An example of this
type of knowledge can be seen in a letter
written to Ring by John Robinson:
"It is a
matter of personal knowledge from
what the Being with whom I spoke
during my NDE told me about my older
son, that he had had 14 incarnations
in female physical bodies previous
to the life he has just had."
Ring has also heard
testimony of this kind of direct knowledge
in some of his interviews. One NDEr, whose
account is recorded in Ring's audiotape
life went before me of things I have
done and haven't done, but not just
of this one lifetime, but of all the
lifetimes. I know for a fact there
is reincarnation. This is an
absolute. I was shown all those
lives and how I had overcome some of
the things I had done in other
lives. There was still some things
to be corrected."
Another NDEr whose
testimony is included in Ring's audiotape
archives gave this account:
"I had a lot
of questions, and I wanted to know
what they [light beings she
encountered in her NDE] were
doing - why are you just kind of
milling around here? And someone
stepped forward ... it wasn't just
one ... I got information from a
number of them ... that they were
all waiting for reincarnation."
a case documented by
Melvin Morse, a girl
who had her NDE when she nearly drowned at
the age of 7 reported seeing during her
experience two adults waiting to be reborn
NDErs may gain direct knowledge of
reincarnation through other psychic or
mystical experiences following their NDE. In
this way, the NDE becomes a catalyst for
openness to reincarnation through its
ability to propel the experiencer into a
general psychic awakening.
other NDErs their experience serves mainly
to spark their interest in various "New Age"
phenomena that leads to often extensive
outside reading and research. It makes sense
that when one becomes open to the idea of
life after death, the idea of life after
life becomes much more plausible.
The fact that my
NDE interest group exhibited reincarnation
belief scores so similar to those of my NDE
sample can be explained by two hypotheses.
First, it is possible that some of my NDE
interest subjects may have gained direct
knowledge of reincarnation through other
psychic or mystical experiences even though
they have not had an NDE. Second, my NDE
interest group may be very similar to those
in my NDE sample who were prompted to
explore "New Age" material following their
experience. Both groups became interested in
the near-death phenomenon, one group through
direct experience and the other through
unspecified means, and thus were led to
explore the concept of reincarnation. My
study is limited by the fact that I have no
data on the factors influencing the beliefs
of the subjects in the NDE interest group.
would be well directed towards determining
what it is about an interest in near-death
experiences that promotes an open ness to
reincarnation, or if in fact both the
interest in NDEs and openness to
reincarnation are the result of some other
factor or occurrence. Using a larger, more
randomly assigned subject pool would also
help to strengthen the findings.
Atwater, P. M. H. (1988).
Coming back to life: The
after-effects of the near-death
experience New York, NY: Dodd,
Cooper, I. S. (1979).
Reincarnation: A hope of the world.
Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing
Flynn, C. P. (1986).
After the beyond: Human
transformation and the near-death
experience Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Gallup, G., Jr., and Proctor, W.
Adventures in immortality: A look
beyond the threshold of death.
New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Grey, M. (1985).
Return from death: An exploration of
the near-death experience
London, England: Arkana.
Greyson, B. (1983).
Increase in psychic phenomena
following near-death experiences.
Theta, 11, 26-29.
Morse, M. L. (1983).
A near-death experience in a
7-year-old child. American
Journal of Diseases of Children,
Morse, M. L., and Perry, P. (1992).
Transformed by the light: The
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experiences on people's lives.
New York, NY: Villard.
Ring, K. (1980).
Life at death: A scientific
investigation of the near-death
experience New York: NY: Coward,
McCann and Geoghegan.
Ring, K. (1985).
Heading toward omega: In search of
the meaning of the near-death
experience New York: NY: Morrow.
Ring, K. (1992).
The Omega Project- Near-death
experiences, UFO encounters, and
mind at large New York, NY:
Sutherland, Cherie. (1992).
Transformed by the light. Life after
near-death experiences. New
York, NY: Bantam.
Twemlow, S. W., Gabbard, G. 0., and
Jones, F. C. (1982).
The out-of-body experience: A
phenomenological typology based on
American Journal of Psychiatry, 139,
is like killing a plant or flower before
it's full-grown or before it's served its
purpose ... The only thing that I can think
and comprehend is that to try and understand
reincarnation. That somehow, instead of
evolving, you would regress."
- Dr. Kenneth Ring
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