Special Issue "Perspectives on Reincarnation: Hindu, Christian, and Scientific"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 July 2017)

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A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Jeffery D. Long

Professor of Religion and Asian Studies, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA 17022, USA
Website | E-Mail
Phone: 717-361-8761
Interests: Hinduism; Buddhism; Jainism; Vedanta; Indian philosophy; philosophy of religion; comparative theology; interfaith dialogue; science and religion

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The topic of reincarnation, or rebirth, is an intensely interesting one. Popular response to recent sessions held on this topic at the American Academy of Religion’s annual meetings (including a standing-room-only session held by the Society for Hindu–Christian Studies at the 2015 meeting, as well as sessions at the 2016 DANAM meeting) demonstrate that this is an issue of special interest to those whose focus is either Hindu–Christian relations or issues relating to religion and science (or both).

No recent publications, however, have dealt extensively with this issue in an interdisciplinary fashion that draws upon the multiple perspectives from which it can be approached. The purpose of this special issue is to fill this gap, bringing together perspectives from religious studies, philosophy, theology, and the sciences (specifically, psychology and physics) to address the question: Is there such a phenomenon as rebirth? Why or why not? How might one go about knowing whether such a phenomenon is a reality? What historical perspectives, specifically from Hindu and Christian traditions, can be brought to bear upon this question? And what, if anything, can science potentially contribute to what has traditionally been a religious and philosophical question? The aim here is to advance mutual understanding among those who hold differing views on this topic, as well as, potentially, advancing understanding of the topic itself.

Dr. Jeffery D. Long
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

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Keywords

  • reincarnation
  • rebirth
  • Hindu-Christian dialogue
  • Hinduism
  • Christianity
  • parapsychology
  • science and religion

Published Papers (16 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial Perspectives on Reincarnation: Hindu, Christian, and Scientific—Editor’s Introduction
Religions 2018, 9(8), 231; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9080231
Received: 24 July 2018 / Accepted: 25 July 2018 / Published: 27 July 2018
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Research

Jump to: Editorial, Other

Open AccessArticle One Life/Many Lives: An Internal Hindu-Christian Dialogue
Religions 2018, 9(4), 104; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9040104
Received: 25 December 2017 / Revised: 7 March 2018 / Accepted: 27 March 2018 / Published: 31 March 2018
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Abstract
This essay consists of philosophical and comparative theological reflections on the topic of rebirth, or reincarnation. Informed by the work of William James, John Hick, and Francis X. Clooney, the essay first establishes the author’s stance that reincarnation is a plausible option for [...] Read more.
This essay consists of philosophical and comparative theological reflections on the topic of rebirth, or reincarnation. Informed by the work of William James, John Hick, and Francis X. Clooney, the essay first establishes the author’s stance that reincarnation is a plausible option for belief, at least as attractive as its two main rivals. These rival options are the belief in an everlasting life in either heaven or hell, characteristic of religions such as Christianity and Islam, and the materialist or physicalist belief that there is no afterlife, except in a highly attenuated sense. The essay then moves into a dialogical, comparative theological mode. It raises the question of whether traditional Christian rejection of rebirth, even if it is not something to which the author ultimately assents, might nevertheless carry with it an important insight that is worthy of serious consideration by those who accept the idea of rebirth. This is seen as an instance of the ‘deep learning across religious borders’ that is the main goal of comparative theology, as defined by Clooney. Full article
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Pātañjala Yoga’s Theory of ‘Many-Lives’ through Karma and Rebirth and Its Eccentric ‘Theism’
Religions 2018, 9(1), 4; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9010004
Received: 30 July 2017 / Revised: 7 December 2017 / Accepted: 19 December 2017 / Published: 23 December 2017
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Abstract
This paper discusses the theory of rebirth as set forth in Classical Samkhya and Yoga and offers a new interpretive perspective. Full article
Open AccessArticle Seeing in Eternal Return: Hermeneutical Perspectives on Karma and Rebirth
Religions 2017, 8(11), 250; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8110250
Received: 15 September 2017 / Revised: 9 November 2017 / Accepted: 14 November 2017 / Published: 16 November 2017
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Abstract
This article is a reflection on a conception of death, that of karma and rebirth, and its value in interpreting one’s life. I have thought about this conception in two ways. The first is that I can see the circumstances of my life [...] Read more.
This article is a reflection on a conception of death, that of karma and rebirth, and its value in interpreting one’s life. I have thought about this conception in two ways. The first is that I can see the circumstances of my life as the result of causes of which I was the agent, and the second is that I can see my life and the relationships in my life as part of a much larger narrative that began before this life. Through an examination of Vaishnava and Advaita theology, Nyāya philosophy, and some Puranic and Epic texts, I argue for an interpretation of karma and rebirth as a rational system that allows one to see relationships as involving many layers of complexity. Full article
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Reincarnation: Mechanics, Narratives, and Implications
Religions 2017, 8(11), 236; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8110236
Received: 12 September 2017 / Revised: 23 October 2017 / Accepted: 24 October 2017 / Published: 27 October 2017
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Abstract
This essay explores the mechanics associated with rebirth, noting differences between Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain narratives. It examines the concept of subtle body and the liṅgam in Sāṃkhya. According to the Hindu tradition, the remains of the departed person, when cremated, merge with [...] Read more.
This essay explores the mechanics associated with rebirth, noting differences between Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain narratives. It examines the concept of subtle body and the liṅgam in Sāṃkhya. According to the Hindu tradition, the remains of the departed person, when cremated, merge with clouds in the upper atmosphere. As the monsoon rain clouds gather, the leftovers mingle with the clouds, returning to earth and eventually finding new life in complex biological cycles. According to Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism, the remains of a person take a ghostly form for 49 days until taking a new birth. According to Jainism, the departed soul immediately travels to the new birth realm at the moment of death. According to Jain karma theory, in the last third of one’s life, a living being makes a fateful choice that determines his or her next embodiment. The 20th century Hindu Yoga teacher Paramahamsa Yogananda, in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, provides an alternate description of a twofold astral and causal body. One hallmark of the Buddha and of the 24 Jain Tīrthaṅkaras was that they remembered all the lives they had lived and the lessons learned in those lives. The Buddha recalled 550 past lives and used these memories to fuel many of his lectures. Mahāvīra remembered his past lives and also the past lives of others. Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra states that through the perfection of giving up all things, including psychological attachments, one spontaneously will remember past lives. In the Yogavāsiṣṭha, a Hindu text, Puṇya remembers the past lives of his grieving brother as well as his own prior experiences. Full article
Open AccessArticle Reincarnation in America: A Brief Historical Overview
Religions 2017, 8(10), 222; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8100222
Received: 14 September 2017 / Revised: 1 October 2017 / Accepted: 3 October 2017 / Published: 11 October 2017
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Abstract
American theories of reincarnation have a long and complex history, dating from 1680s to the present. It is the purpose of this paper to highlight the main currents of reincarnation theory in the American context, giving a brief historical survey. Sources surveyed begin [...] Read more.
American theories of reincarnation have a long and complex history, dating from 1680s to the present. It is the purpose of this paper to highlight the main currents of reincarnation theory in the American context, giving a brief historical survey. Sources surveyed begin with Native American traditions, and then move to immigrant traditions based in Western Esotericism, Christianity, Judaism, missionary Hinduism and Buddhism, Spiritualism, Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, and concludes with more current theoretical influences, based in paranormal science research. The paper demonstrates that current theories of reincarnation are increasingly less dependent upon religious support and increasingly based in direct personal experience, paranormal research, and new therapeutic models. The paper concludes with some reflections on the complexity of reincarnation theory and raises questions concerning the future development of such theory. Full article
Open AccessArticle Hindu Students and Their Missionary Teachers: Debating the Relevance of Rebirth in the Colonial Indian Academy
Religions 2017, 8(9), 198; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090198
Received: 25 July 2017 / Revised: 31 August 2017 / Accepted: 1 September 2017 / Published: 19 September 2017
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Abstract
This essay provides a meta-narrative for the philosophical dialogues that took place in colonial India between Scottish missionary philosophers and philosophers of Vedānta on the topic of karma and rebirth. In particular, it offers a reconstruction and analysis of the context and strategy [...] Read more.
This essay provides a meta-narrative for the philosophical dialogues that took place in colonial India between Scottish missionary philosophers and philosophers of Vedānta on the topic of karma and rebirth. In particular, it offers a reconstruction and analysis of the context and strategy that shaped the content of discussions that were initiated in the pages of the Madras Christian College Magazine in 1909 between Subrahmanya Sastri and AG Hogg and that inspired Radhakrishnan’s response in his dissertation entitled “The Ethics of Vedanta and its Metaphysical Suppositions”. The broad context is provided by a history of missionary presence in India. The context is further circumscribed by the ‘hybrid’ character of the position of the missionaries as teachers in departments of philosophy, teaching students of “upper-caste Hindus” in the English medium universities set up by the British in the late nineteenth century. The hermeneutics of form and context is essential to understanding the content of these debates about the ethics and metaphysics of Christianity and Hinduism, where the meaning and significance of the notion of rebirth took center stage. Importantly, these debates in turn shed light on the broader social and political context in which these debates took place. Full article
Open AccessArticle An 18th Century Jesuit “Refutation of Metempsychosis” in Sanskrit
Religions 2017, 8(9), 192; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090192
Received: 28 August 2017 / Revised: 11 September 2017 / Accepted: 11 September 2017 / Published: 17 September 2017
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Abstract
The Punarjanmākṣepa, a work in Sanskrit from the 17th–18th century Jesuit milieu, aims at refuting the notion of reincarnation as believed by the Hindus in India. It discloses an interesting historical perspective of missionary comprehension and criticism of the belief. This paper [...] Read more.
The Punarjanmākṣepa, a work in Sanskrit from the 17th–18th century Jesuit milieu, aims at refuting the notion of reincarnation as believed by the Hindus in India. It discloses an interesting historical perspective of missionary comprehension and criticism of the belief. This paper briefly examines the context, purpose and the rhetorical strategies of the work and incidentally situates the subject of reincarnation in the 18th century European intellectual ideologies. Full article
Open AccessArticle To Never See Death: Yeats, Reincarnation, and Resolving the Antinomies of the Body-Soul Dilemma
Religions 2017, 8(9), 182; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090182
Received: 31 July 2017 / Revised: 21 August 2017 / Accepted: 27 August 2017 / Published: 5 September 2017
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Abstract
This essay addresses the ideas and schemas of reincarnation as used in the poetry and prose of William Butler Yeats, with particular focus on the two editions of A Vision. It contrasts the metaphysical system as given in A Vision (1937) with [...] Read more.
This essay addresses the ideas and schemas of reincarnation as used in the poetry and prose of William Butler Yeats, with particular focus on the two editions of A Vision. It contrasts the metaphysical system as given in A Vision (1937) with a number of inconsistencies found in Yeats’s poetic corpus, with an emphasis on how one might interpolate an escape from the cycle of lives, in at least one possibility while still maintaining corporality. The justification for this last comes from an analysis of complex cabalistic metaphors and teachings that Yeats learned as a member of MacGregor Mathers’ Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Full article
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Open AccessArticle The Reincarnation(s) of Jaya and Vijaya: A Journey through the Yugas
Religions 2017, 8(9), 178; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090178
Received: 31 July 2017 / Accepted: 31 August 2017 / Published: 4 September 2017
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Abstract
Among the earliest reincarnation narratives found in India’s Puranic texts, we find the stories of Jaya and Vijaya, the two gatekeepers of the spiritual world. Though there is little in these stories to explain reincarnation in a philosophical sense, the teaching of transmigration [...] Read more.
Among the earliest reincarnation narratives found in India’s Puranic texts, we find the stories of Jaya and Vijaya, the two gatekeepers of the spiritual world. Though there is little in these stories to explain reincarnation in a philosophical sense, the teaching of transmigration is implicit in the stories themselves, for we follow the two gatekeepers through three successive incarnations (along with the three incarnations of the divine who follow them through their various lifetimes). Full article
Open AccessArticle Belief in Reincarnation and Some Unresolved Questions in Catholic Eschatology
Religions 2017, 8(9), 176; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090176
Received: 3 August 2017 / Revised: 30 August 2017 / Accepted: 30 August 2017 / Published: 1 September 2017
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Abstract
Mainstream Christianity has always rejected reincarnation teaching in all its varieties, e.g., Greco-Roman, Albigensian, Hindu, Buddhist, New Age, etc. as being incompatible with the biblical understanding of the uniqueness, dignity, and value of the human person, a teaching that is ultimately rooted in [...] Read more.
Mainstream Christianity has always rejected reincarnation teaching in all its varieties, e.g., Greco-Roman, Albigensian, Hindu, Buddhist, New Age, etc. as being incompatible with the biblical understanding of the uniqueness, dignity, and value of the human person, a teaching that is ultimately rooted in the radical understanding of divine mercy and love toward every human being proclaimed by Jesus himself. Nevertheless, there are two strong arguments advanced by reincarnationists against the teaching of one earthly life. The first argument regards reincarnation as a more reasonable expression of divine mercy and love than the disproportionate and unfair infliction of eternal punishment by God upon a human being for a single morally corrupt lifetime. The second argument finds reincarnation to be necessary for the continued exercise of creaturely freedom required for true moral and spiritual maturation. Catholic teaching, by contrast, asserts that a single earthly life followed by purgatory is sufficient for the perfection and completion of the human person. However, in both the satisfaction and sanctification models of purgatory the human person is entirely passive, not actively contributing to its own completion. Such an approach would seem to devalue free human participation in the process of perfection. Full article
Open AccessArticle The Reality and the Verifiability of Reincarnation
Religions 2017, 8(9), 162; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090162
Received: 31 July 2017 / Revised: 21 August 2017 / Accepted: 22 August 2017 / Published: 24 August 2017
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Abstract
We investigate the topic of reincarnation by revisiting a recent debate from the pages of the journal Philosophy East and West between Whitley Kaufman, who presents five moral objections to karma and reincarnation as an explanation for human suffering, and Monima Chadha and [...] Read more.
We investigate the topic of reincarnation by revisiting a recent debate from the pages of the journal Philosophy East and West between Whitley Kaufman, who presents five moral objections to karma and reincarnation as an explanation for human suffering, and Monima Chadha and Nick Trakakis, who seek to respond to Kaufman’s critiques. Our discussion of four of the problems analysed in their exchange will suggest that while the rejoinders of Chadha and Trakakis to Kaufman consist of plausible logical possibilities which successfully rebut some of his criticisms, the scenarios that they sketch are grounded in specific metaphysical theses about the nature of the human person and the structure of reality. The cogency of the responses that Chadha and Trakakis formulate is integrally related to the acceptance of these metaphysical presuppositions which need to be highlighted more clearly as we seek to understand what is at stake in the dispute. Full article
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Science’s Big Problem, Reincarnation’s Big Potential, and Buddhists’ Profound Embarrassment
Religions 2017, 8(8), 155; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8080155
Received: 20 July 2017 / Revised: 14 August 2017 / Accepted: 14 August 2017 / Published: 19 August 2017
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Abstract
Scientific materialism is the largely unquestioned basis for modern science’s understanding of life. It also holds enormous sway beyond science and thus has increasingly marginalized religious perspectives. Yet it is easy to find behavioral phenomena from the accepted literature that seriously challenge materialism. [...] Read more.
Scientific materialism is the largely unquestioned basis for modern science’s understanding of life. It also holds enormous sway beyond science and thus has increasingly marginalized religious perspectives. Yet it is easy to find behavioral phenomena from the accepted literature that seriously challenge materialism. A number of these phenomena are very suggestive of reincarnation. The larger test for science’s paradigm, though, as well as for any potential general import from reincarnation, is the DNA (or genetics)-based model of heredity. If that conception-beget, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)-carried model can be confirmed at the individual level then in a very substantial way we would be confirmed as material-only creatures. In particular, can behavioral genetics and personal genomics confirm their DNA-based presumptions? During the last decade enormous efforts have been made to find the DNA origins for a number of health and behavioral tendencies. These efforts have been an “absolutely beyond belief” failure and it is here that the scientific vision faces its biggest challenge. The common pre-modern reincarnation understanding, on the other hand, fits well on a number of specific conundrums and offers a broad coherence across this unfolding missing heritability mystery. For people trying to make sense of a religious perspective or simply questioning materialism, you should be looking at the missing heritability problem. Full article
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Rebirth According to the Bhagavad gītā; Epistemology, Ontology and Ethics
Religions 2017, 8(8), 148; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8080148
Received: 22 July 2017 / Revised: 7 August 2017 / Accepted: 10 August 2017 / Published: 14 August 2017
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Abstract
This paper is engaged with the topic of reincarnation in the Bhagavad gītā, better termed “rebirth”. It first looks into the epistemological aspects of rebirth, and highlights the type of knowledge or terminology underlying the vision of rebirth, as opposed to a different [...] Read more.
This paper is engaged with the topic of reincarnation in the Bhagavad gītā, better termed “rebirth”. It first looks into the epistemological aspects of rebirth, and highlights the type of knowledge or terminology underlying the vision of rebirth, as opposed to a different type of knowledge that is not suitable for this purpose, and which leads to a different vision of reality. It then looks into the ontological aspects of rebirth, and having highlighted some Upaniṣadic sources, it highlights major Bhagavad gītā sections describing the soul and rebirth. Finally, it looks into the ethics derived from the concept of rebirth; it first characterizes these as “ethics of equanimity”, and then expands these into the “ethics of enlightened action”, which refer to action grounded in the idea of rebirth. Full article

Other

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Open AccessEssay One-Birth, Many-Births: A Conversation Reborn A Response to “Perspectives on Reincarnation: Hindu, Christian, and Scientific,” a Thematic Issue of Religions
Religions 2018, 9(7), 204; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9070204
Received: 22 June 2018 / Accepted: 28 June 2018 / Published: 2 July 2018
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Open AccessErratum Erratum: Belief in Reincarnation and Some Unresolved Questions in Catholic Eschatology. Religions 2017, 8, 176
Religions 2018, 9(1), 29; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9010029
Received: 15 January 2018 / Revised: 15 January 2018 / Accepted: 15 January 2018 / Published: 19 January 2018
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