Lives-long learning: the effects of reincarnation belief on everyday life in England1

Tony Walter, Helen Waterhouse

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A sizeable minority of Westerners who have no particular connection with Eastern or New Age religions nevertheless claim to believe in reincarnation. Does this belief affect their practical morality and how they think about suffering and injustice? An interview study conducted in England mapped the range of meanings such people give to reincarnation, and found: 1) Karma was widely referred to, but in the context of Western notions of self-improvement; there was little recognition of the possibility of bad karma leading to ‘downward mobility’ in the next life, and little linking of karma to everyday action; 2) Reincarnation enabled respondents to make sense of suffering and injustice, but in a rather general way; 3) Despite the sample's elderly bias, reincarnation was not widely reported as a comfort in illness and bereavement. The authors conclude that, outside of a culture or formal religion that embraces it, relatively high levels of personal interest in reincarnation can coincide with rather insubstantial effects on everyday morality, though individuals can and do use it to think about problems of suffering and injustice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-101
Number of pages17
JournalNova Religio
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2001


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