Journal Article

A Very Private Belief: Reincarnation in Contemporary England

Tony Walter and Helen Waterhouse

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 60, issue 2, pages 187-197
Published in print January 1999 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online January 1999 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3711748
A Very Private Belief: Reincarnation in Contemporary England

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Survey data indicate a substantial minority of westerners who have no attachment to Eastern or New Age religion but who nevertheless believe in reincarnation. This paper summarizes the findings of a small intensive interview study of a group of English people who take seriously the possibility of reincarnation: 1) Many of them hold reincarnation alongside Christian belief; 2) Most are less than dogmatic about their belief; 3) Some entertain the possibility of reincarnation because of experience (first or second hand), for others reincarnation solves intellectual problems, e.g., concerning theodicy; 4) They see bodily incarnations in the context of long-term spiritual progress, and they value spirit over body; 5) Their belief in reincarnation has rather little effect on the rest of their lives. It is concluded that rising belief in reincarnation heralds neither a spiritual nor a moral revolution, but fits easily into the privatized religion that characterizes contemporary western societies, and England in particular.

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Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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