Monday, January 28, 2008


Belief in Reincarnation Spreads Hinduism in America

NEW YORK, USA, January 24, 2008: (HPI note: this is an article from the latest issue of NEWSWEEK, January 28, 2008.)

Reincarnation is an increasingly mainstream belief. Madonna has said she's a believer. So has Kate Hudson. According to a 2003 Harris poll, 40 percent of people aged 25 to 29 believed they would return to earth in a different body after they die. Popular New Age movements such as Scientology and Kabbalah teach some version of reincarnation, and best-selling books, notably by the Yale-trained psychiatrist Brian Weiss and by the therapist Carol Bowman, have brought the concept into the American mainstream. This ancient belief, a core belief of more than 800 million Hindus, has been in the news.

Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University and a student of Hinduism, has an interesting theory about Americans' interest in reincarnation. As people become more prosperous and more educated, the idea of leaving the earth forever--even for heaven--has less appeal than the idea of coming back. "We all want the here and now, and reincarnation is about the here and now," Prothero writes in an e-mail.

Reincarnation would seem to be at odds with mainstream Christianity, the majority religion in the United States. Traditionally, Christians have believed that, after death, their body and soul separate temporarily only to be reunited, at the end of time, in the general resurrection of the dead. Belief in reincarnation presents logistical--not to mention theological--problems. If souls keep cycling back to earth, which body is theirs at the resurrection? What happens to all the other bodies they've inhabited? Prothero argues that the popularity of reincarnation correlates to a waning of belief in physical resurrection among Christians. That's why a third of Americans choose to be cremated these days, up from virtually none 30 years ago: they believe their souls are eternal, not their bodies. "Americans," Prothero says, "are becoming more Hindu."


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