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The term reincarnation [ ˌreːɪnkarnaˈtsi̯oːn ] (Latin 'incarnation' or 'reincarnation'), also palingenesis (ancient Greek, from πάλιν, pálin 'again', 'again' and γένεσις, génesis 'generation', 'birth') denotes ideas of the species that a (mostly only human) soul or ongoing mental processes (as often understood in Buddhism ) manifest themselves again in other sentient beings after death - the "excarnation". Similar concepts are also referred to as metempsychosis , transmigration , transmigration of souls or rebirth . “ Out of body experiences ” are often associated with the term reincarnation. The belief in reincarnation is a dogmatic component of the world religions Hinduism and Buddhism. The doctrine of karma is also integrated into some, but by no means all, reincarnation teachings .


The term reincarnation does not designate a specific doctrine, but rather summarizes a multitude of different doctrines that are part of various religions in various forms. In the Christian western culture, where reincarnation is not part of the prevailing beliefs, the term reincarnation was introduced by the French spiritualist Allan Kardec ( Livre des ésprits , 1857). Before that, synonyms such as Palingenesia ('re- emergence '), metempsychosis ('re- souling ', 'soul change') and metemsomatosis ('re- embodiment ', 'body change') were used, which were already used in antiquity. The most common name in the 18th and 19th centuries was metempsychosis , in German also transmigration of the soul . The term rebirth proved problematic because it is used in a different sense in Christianity in connection with baptism or conversion (see rebirth (Christianity) ). In the 20th century, reincarnation became the most common term.

Spreading belief in reincarnation

The numerically most significant faiths in which reincarnation plays a central role are Hinduism with around 900 million followers worldwide and Buddhism with 400–500 million followers.

In various European countries and the USA, statistical surveys have been carried out since the 1960s on the spread of belief in reincarnation among the population. They gave approval rates between 10 and 30%, whereby the exact question apparently strongly influenced the result, while otherwise hardly any trends can be derived. The result of a survey in Brazil is much higher, at 45%, which could be related to the fact that Cardecist spiritualism is widespread there.

Reincarnation in the context of world religions


The idea of ​​reincarnation does not yet appear in the oldest texts of Indian Hinduism , the Vedas . In the Upanishads , the oldest of which dates from around 800 to 600 BC. However, it is an essential theme that has been varied in many ways since then.

Illustration of the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation

According to Hindu ideas, the human being is in his innermost being an immortal soul ( Atman : cf. Anātman ), which after the death of the body in a newly appearing being - a human being, an animal or a god ( Deva ) - again embodied. In what kind of being the individual is reborn depends on the deeds in previous existences, from which his karma results. “How one acts, how one walks, he becomes one. Good action comes from good action, bad action comes from bad, ” teach the Upanishads. Karma is linked to the idea of ​​a moral world order, the Dharma , whereby all actions according to the principle of cause and effect are the prerequisites for future rebirth. Every being exists because of its potential for action accumulated in earlier forms of existence, which brings about the overall result of every existence. Consequently, death is not the end of life, but only the transition to a new form of existence. The eternal and unchangeable essence of man, founded by the Atman (eternal soul), is preserved. This Jiva (the individual soul) is the Atman together with reason, feelings and desires, which manifests itself again and again.

Hindu traditions offer no clear information about where the jiva resides after the death of the body until it is reincarnated. In some Hindu schools the motifs of heaven and hell (or several of them) exist . They depict different heavens where the jiva with good karma can dwell for a while in supernatural joys; mythology also paints pictures of terrible hells in which he experiences great suffering until his bad karma is used up. But in both cases the stay is not eternal: after some time the individual returns to earth to be born again and again - until final redemption ( moksha ) through absorption in the world soul ( brahman ). This cycle of rebirths is a law of nature; Categories such as punishment or reward do not play a role in this context.

While some Hindu schools regard the law of karma, according to which the individual is solely responsible for his own salvation, as inexorable, other Hindus rely on divine grace that can destroy karma and save the individual. This divine help is a major theme in Hindu prayers .

The goal of the Hindu is to overcome the eternal cycle of becoming and passing away ( samsara ) connected with constant experiences of sadness . Tradition knows three classic ways through which salvation can be achieved: the way of knowledge ( Jnana Yoga ), the way of action ( Karma Yoga ) and the way of love of God ( Bhakti Yoga ). Many thinkers (such as Vivekananda ) also include a fourth way, Raja Yoga , the “royal yoga ”, which is connected with special yoga exercises and meditation .


The Buddhism (created around the 5th century BC...) Includes the of rebirth and karma doctrine of the Upanishads on, however, rejects the existence of an eternal, the incarnations enduring soul from ( Anatta - or anatman teaching). Rebirth is understood here as “ dependent arising ”, in which a person's deeds and the karma resulting from them cause a new birth without anything being transferred from one person to the other. In the more recent research, however, the possibility is discussed that the founder of the religion Siddhartha Gautama himself only contradicted a certain idea of ​​the Atman prevailing at the time and that this was only made absolute later.

In Buddhism, karma is the beings' inherent ability to purposefully, deliberately act ( “I call the intention karma, you monks” , Siddhartha Gautama), but also the principle of cause and effect. At the individual level, karma means action, action, work and its consequences in this and following life. Every positive or negative experience is conditioned by an earlier positive or negative act - as a physical, linguistic and intellectual expression - and in turn leads to positive or negative effects, thus changing karma. These effects are not accidental, but are also not subject to any higher (divine) dictates such as providence, retribution, etc.

The rebirth can take place in human form, but also - with bad karma - “in the animal kingdom, in the realm of hungry ghosts and demons or as a tortured inmate in one of the 8 main and 160 secondary hells ” and - with good karma - in a heavenly world. In addition to the positive or negative circumstances of the birth, the karma also determines the character of the born, since the six "roots of karma" (greed and selflessness, hatred and goodness as well as delusion and wisdom) tend to have something similar to them in the same or in a subsequent one To evoke life.

According to the Buddhist view, the causes of rebirths lie in the three unwholesome roots of karma: greed, hatred and ignorance or delusion (see Three Spirit Poisons ). The intended delusion consists in the fact that man strives for fulfillment in the area of ​​the ephemeral, which inevitably leads to painful experiences ( dukkha ). To escape this suffering, the Buddhist strives for enlightenment ( Bodhi ) on the " eightfold path " , whereby he overcomes delusion and, as a result, greed and hatred and attains the state of nirvana . This also ends the cycle of rebirths ( samsara ).

The enlightened One can, however, take on further embodiments to help other people on the path to enlightenment and salvation. This is the path of the Bodhisattva that Gautama Buddha took and which is also open to other people in Mahayana Buddhism. In Vajrayana Buddhism, the tradition of conscious rebirth (see Trülku ) has accordingly developed.


The concept of reincarnation (Hebrew גִלְגּוּל נְשָמוֹת = Gilgul Neschamot, short Gilgul ) appeared in the Tanach not, but in several places in the Talmud discussed quite controversial and may even be a fundamental element of Kabbalah are considered.

The idea of ​​reincarnation is encountered above all in Jewish mysticism , for example in the influential Sefer ha-Bahir ('Book of Enlightenment'), which is generally regarded as the oldest work of Kabbalah and based on Rabbi Nechonja ben ha-Qana (a Contemporaries of Rabbi Jochanan ben Sakkai in the 1st century), but was probably only written by Isaac the Blind at the beginning of the 12th century. After the publication of the much better known Sefer ha-Sohar ('Book of Shine') in the late 13th century, the doctrine of reincarnation even became common property in (Eastern European) Judaism for some time.

An almost classic work of Kabbalah with regard to rebirth is Shaar ha-Gilgulim ('Gate of Reincarnations') by Rabbi Isaak Luria (1534–1572), known as Adoneinu Rabbeinu Jizchak ( acrostic poem : ha-ARI = 'the lion'), which the describes complex laws of rebirth of 5 different parts of the soul and also distinguishes the lifelong incarnation ( Gilgul ) from the temporary incorporation of a foreign good soul ( Ibbur ) or a foreign evil soul ( Dibbuk ). In this work, Luria also expressly refers to certain text passages in the Tanakh.

This spiritual closeness of the Hasidim to the concept of Gilgul can be traced back to the founder of the Hasidic movement Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1698–1760), called Baal Schem Tow (acronym: BeSchT). In his works, The Legends of Baal Shem and The Tales of the Hasidim, Martin Buber has collected several stories from Baal Shem Tov, in which Baal Shem Tov presents and explains very specific cases of reincarnation.


The major Christian churches, and accordingly most theologians, reject the idea of ​​reincarnation. For example, the Catholic theologian Helmut Zander wrote in his monograph History of the Migration of Souls in Europe :

[In the Bible ] “there are no ideas about reincarnation, not even allusions. The assumption that reincarnation-relevant passages were eliminated in the course of the text's history also hangs in a vacuum. "

Nevertheless, especially in the esoteric literature of the last few decades, there are numerous interpretations of the Bible in which quotations from the New and the Old Testament are interpreted as evidence of ideas about reincarnation. The assessment of such interpretations varies. Similar to Zander, the Catholic theologian Norbert Bischofberger said:

“The assertion that the idea of ​​reincarnation is contained in the New Testament turns out to be false on closer examination of the repeatedly mentioned passages. The thought of reincarnation is not an issue in the New Testament. "

The Protestant theologian Helmut Obst came to a different assessment :

"From a clear reincarnation doctrine can be no question. But: There are a few passages which contain statements and hints that are to be understood in terms of reincarnation or can be interpreted accordingly. "

In particular, the “Elijah-Baptist problem” in the Gospels makes it “impossible to say that the New Testament does not know the reincarnation idea at all.” It is about John the Baptist , who was referred to by Jesus as the prophet Elijah , “who are coming should "( Mt 11: 13-14  EU , Mt 17: 10-13  EU ). However, John the Baptist himself had previously denied being the prophet Elijah when asked about it ( John 1:21  EU ). According to the idea of ​​the time, the appearance of Elijah would be the return of someone who was not dead at the time, but rather raptured ( 2 Kings 2: 9-12  EU ).

In early Christianity, ideas about reincarnation were widespread, as they were common in Platonic philosophy and introduced into Christian milieus by converted pagans . They were particularly present in the Gnostic currents. The Church Fathers , however, opposed such tendencies because they viewed reincarnation as incompatible with the Christian faith in several respects, and this is the attitude of the great Christian churches to this day. The idea of ​​the resurrection of the whole person (body and soul) to eternal life excludes the repeated incarnation of the soul in different bodies as well as the redemption of the soul freed from the physical (in Platonism). The redemption of man through the grace of God is generally seen as incompatible with karma-like laws in various reincarnation teachings. After the disappearance of Christian gnosis, reincarnation therefore no longer played a role in Christianity for a long time. Apart from the Cathars in the Middle Ages, it only reappeared in modern times, and only since the 19th century have attempts to make such teachings compatible with the Bible have increased.


The situation of the thought of reincarnation within Islam has much in common with that within the other two Abrahamic religions. Again, most of the mainstream representatives ( Sunnis and Shiites ) reject the concept of reincarnation. The notion of repeated incarnation of the individual soul is difficult to reconcile with the traditional understanding of belief in personal resurrection on Judgment Day . But the thought of reincarnation plays an important role in some heretical movements.

One of the earliest Islamic movements within which this idea emerged was the Harbīya named after ʿAbdallāh ibn Harb. Ibn Harb was the head of the Kaisanites in al-Madāʾin in the first half of the 8th century . The Kaisanites, a group from the spectrum of the extreme Shia , expected the return of the rapt Abū Hāschim, a son of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafīya , at that time . When the hashimit ʿAbdallāh ibn Muʿāwiya rose up against the Umayyads in 744 in Kufa in Muharram , many Kaisanites joined his revolt. After the killing of ʿAbdallāh ibn Muʿāwiyas by a governor of Abu Muslims in 748/79, some of the Kaisanites said that he had not really died, but only raptured and had appointed Ibn Harb as his agent ( wasī ). A description of the reincarnational teachings of the Harbīya is provided by a doxographic work from the 9th century from circles of the Muʿtazila :

“This group claims that the resurrection is nothing more than the stepping out of the spirit from one body into another; if the spirits had been obedient, they would be transformed into pure bodies, beautiful forms and eternal delights; thereafter, depending on the degree of their purity, they would go through the stages of beauty, holiness and bliss until they became angels and received pure bodies of light. If, on the other hand, the spirits had been rebellious, they would be transferred into unclean bodies, distorted shapes and despised creatures such as dogs, monkeys, pigs, snakes and scorpions. "

To justify this doctrine, the followers of the Harbīya referred to the Koran words in Sura 29 : 64 "The otherworldly dwelling, that is life ( ḥayawān , also interpreted as an" animal ")" and Sura 82 : 6-8: "You man! What has you beguiled by your excellent Lord, who created you and shaped you evenly and put you together in the shape he wanted? " The latter statement was interpreted by the followers of the Harbīya in the sense that God reassembled people into different animal forms according to obedience or sin.

Ideas of reincarnation were still evident at the end of the 8th century in various Churramitic movements such as that of al-Muqannaʿ in Samarkand . In the 9th century, such teachings also took hold in the Muʿtazila itself. The Muʿtazilit Ahmad ibn Chābit (st. 842 or 847) took the opinion that people are fallen spirits who receive different body shells on earth, in which they then have to prove themselves again and again. Depending on their behavior, they end up going up to paradise or going to hell. In addition, doctrines of reincarnation also play a central role among the Druze and Alawites . According to the Druze doctrine, there is a reincarnation of humans only again as humans, not as animals.

In Islamic mysticism ( Sufism ), many esoteric orders ( tariqas ) clearly represent positions that easily integrate the concept of rebirth into their spiritual worldview. Here the Sufi masters (or dervishes ) often refer to the 28th verse of the 2nd sura ( al-Baqara = "the cow") of the Koran :

“How can you deny God where you were dead and He made you alive? Then He makes you die and makes you alive again, and then you will be brought back to Him ” (Koran 2:28, translation by Adel Theodor Khoury ).

The mainstream Islamic theologians, however, contradict this interpretation of the verse and argue that in the first case ("where you were dead") it is a description of spiritual lifelessness in the present life and in the second case ("makes yourselves alive again") the resurrection on the day of judgment. This inner-Islamic dispute has amazing similarities with the different inner-Christian readings of the raising of the dead, for example the Lazarus episode in the Gospel of John ( Jn 11: 1-45  EU ). As further evidence for an assumed Islamic reincarnation doctrine, the following Koran verse is sometimes used by Islamic mystics:

“You let night turn into day and you let day turn into night. You bring the living out of the dead, and you bring the dead out of the living, and you give support to whom you want without (much) calculating. ” ( Sura 3 : 27, translation by Adel Theodor Khoury).

The mystical interpretation of the Sufis is also shown to a certain extent unveiled in the (especially Persian) classical literature of the Islamic world. For example, in the book Mathnawi of the Persian poet and Sufi master Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi (1207–1273), called Moulana ("our master"), to whose teachings the Mevlevi Order of Dervish goes back, the following poem can be found:

“I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as a plant and became an animal,
I died as an animal and became human.
Why should I be afraid?
When did I become less from death?
One more time I'll die as a human,
only to ascend with the angelic blessing.
But I also have to go on
from being an angel
… ” (Excerpt from the Mathnawi of Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi).

History of ideas about reincarnation in Europe


The oldest written evidence of a belief in reincarnation in Europe can be found in the Second Olympic Ode (476 BC) by the Greek poet Pindar . In later writings, Pythagoras , who lived in the 6th century BC, and his students are assigned a doctrine of reincarnation, and Pythagoras was therefore long considered the "ancestor" of the belief in the migration of souls in Europe. Today, however, it is considered likely that the origins of such ideas, such as those found among the Orphics , go back even further, especially since they have been widespread in oral cultures (which did not know any written language) in recent times.

Other important representatives of the doctrine of reincarnation within the Greek philosophy were Empedocles (approx. 490-435 BC) and Plato (approx. 428-348 BC). Empedocles taught that the immortal soul already exists before birth ( doctrine of pre-existence ) and is of divine origin. As a result of morally bad deeds, she must purify herself in numerous incarnations in order to regain her divine status. This is based on the opposition between the metaphysical principles of love and hate. The hatred leads people to acts of violence, because of which they have to incarnate again in human, animal or vegetable bodies. Purification is done through nonviolence including a vegetarian diet. Empedocles agrees with the Hindu and Buddhist teachings at about the same time insofar as physical existence is viewed as suffering. An essential difference, however, is that he sees the way to salvation in embodiment (through a corresponding lifestyle), while according to the Indian teachings, salvation is striven for through special, specific actions.

Plato, Roman copy of a contemporary bust

Plato took up the ideas of Empedocles and expanded them further. He was the most influential exponent of the doctrine of migration of souls in ancient Europe. According to his presentation, the human souls originally lived in the realm of the immortal divine archetypes or ideas. However, due to various base motives, they alienated themselves from this state of immortal bliss, which eventually led to physical existence. Even in the embodied state, however, the soul still has faint memories of its earlier god-like existence, and therefore its higher part, reason, strives for release from prison, as which Plato called the material body, while the lower desires of the soul Want to bind material. According to Plato, the way to salvation from physical existence consists in transforming lower desires into virtues .

In the further course of antiquity, the idea of ​​reincarnation lived on in the currents of Pythagoreanism and Platonism ( Plutarch , Plotinus , Porphyrios, etc.), although it also found its way into Roman culture, in which it was originally not familiar. Other important currents in which the transmigration of souls was taught were Manichaeism and Hermetics . Important poets such as Virgil and Ovid took up the subject without clearly speaking out for or against it, while Lucretius and Lukian only had mockery left. Aristotle and the Sophists were also resolute opponents of the doctrine of reincarnation . These teachings were very varied in the details, even within the work of a single philosopher such as Plutarch there are various variants. According to the current state of research, the importance of them in ancient European societies can only be roughly assessed. There are no indications (apart from the religious movement of Manichaeism) for a widespread effect outside of scholarly circles; therefore it can be assumed that it was mainly an issue of elitist discourse. Towards the end of antiquity, it gradually receded into these too, and finally practically disappeared.

Reincarnation was not an issue in ancient Judaism, and it initially played no role in the resulting Christianity. With the mass conversion of pagans to Christianity, however, such thoughts were also brought into these circles. This was reflected in the fact that questions of rebirth were often discussed in the writings of the Church Fathers , although the reincarnation of the soul in another body was consistently rejected and only the resurrection of the whole person was represented. A belief in reincarnation was specifically ascribed to various members of the Christian Gnosis , although such ideas apparently did not acquire any greater significance in this either.

According to Gaius Iulius Caesar's De bello Gallico and Diodors Bibliotheca historica , the Gauls believed in reincarnation, which is why they were not afraid of death and were therefore particularly brave in battle.

middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, doctrines of reincarnation were only represented in exceptional cases in the Christian cultural area. They are only reliably documented in the "heretic movement" of the Cathars and in the late Byzantine philosopher Georgios Gemistos Plethon . In Judaism, on the other hand, there is richer evidence and references for such ideas. Saadia Gaon describes four different doctrines of reincarnation in his beliefs and opinions , which he developed around 930, but all of which he tries to refute. Positive statements about transmigration of souls can then be found - at least according to the interpretation by Gershom Scholem - in the book Bahir, which was written around 1200 in southern France . This was followed, among other things, by the doctrine of reincarnation of Isaac the Blind (approx. 1165–1235), who worked in Provence and was venerated as a Hasid . Through Isaac's pupils, this teaching made its way to neighboring Catalonia , where it was cultivated in the Geroneser Kabbalist School, but only hinted at in writing. From there, this idea spread within Judaism, experienced manifold variations, and established itself in the following centuries as a common concept, at least among Jewish intellectuals.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, notions of migrating souls were common among the Christian Cathars , although their origin is unclear. The sources reveal a variety in detail, for example when it comes to the question of how many incarnations have to be passed through and which animals could be considered as bodies for reincarnating human souls as a result of a reprehensible previous life. However, there is always the goal of overcoming physical existence and not being reborn. This goal can only be achieved by the Cathars, either by attaining the status of "Perfectus" (in contrast to the only believing Credentes ) or by overcoming material contamination on their deathbed through voluntary starvation. The Cathars were fought as heretics (hence the term " heretic ", derived from "katharoi") and finally exterminated.

Plethon (approx. 1355–1450), the last important philosopher of the declining Byzantine Empire, represented a neo-Platonic doctrine of the migration of souls in the context of the revival of ancient Greek intellectual property. During his lifetime, however, it does not seem to have become known outside of a narrow circle, and after his death the records he made about it were burned.

Modern times

During the Renaissance , the writings of Plato and the Neoplatonists became available in the West and the doctrines of reincarnation represented by these philosophers were discussed. Since they were viewed as incompatible with the Christian faith, they were either rejected (e.g. Johannes Reuchlin ) or attempts were made to reinterpret them allegorically (according to Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola ).

Giordano Bruno (1548–1600) confessed to a doctrine of reincarnation based on Pythagoras within the framework of his cosmology, which was revolutionary for the time . However, it is only mentioned in passing in his works and only seems to have attracted significant interest in the 20th century. Nor was it decisive in Bruno's conviction as a heretic.

The subject of transmigration of souls was first brought into public discussion (outside Jewish circles) by Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont (1614–1699), the son of the famous doctor, philosopher and naturalist Johan Baptista van Helmont . He was instrumental in the preparation of the first significant translation of Kabbalistic texts into Latin and, according to his own statements, caused the reincarnation teachings of the Kabbalist Isaak Luria to be included, although the editor Christian Knorr von Rosenroth rejected it. Shortly afterwards (1684) he, the "younger van Helmont", published his own doctrine of reincarnation, developed from Christianity, with which he tried to mediate between Christianity and Judaism and which differed considerably from Luria. However, this met with overwhelming rejection, and the topic remained a marginal phenomenon in intellectual circles for almost a hundred years.

Anton Graff : Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1771)

However, that changed suddenly - at least for the German-speaking area - with Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's work The Education of the Human Race, published in 1780 . Lessing himself did not take a clear position, but asked questions like: “Why shouldn't I come back so often when I am ready to acquire new knowledge and skills?” Or: “Is this idea so ridiculous because it is the oldest is? ” These statements by Lessing were then promptly interpreted in many cases as a commitment to reincarnation and in any case aroused lively interest. Lessing viewed repeated earthly lives as a possible means of human development and upbringing and also presented them positively insofar as he ruled out incarnations in animal bodies. Lessing's approach was formative for later western teachings of reincarnation, for example in spiritism , theosophy and anthroposophy .

The following year, Johann Georg Schlosser , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's friend and brother-in-law , published On the Wandering of Souls, the first publication of that time that explicitly and approvingly dealt with the subject. A multi-faceted debate started in which, among others, Goethe and Johann Gottfried Herder took part and in the course of which “Indian” ( Hindu ) sources were also received; it began to be reflected in fiction around 1800 .

The topic was discussed further in the 19th century. A relatively prominent proponent of the transmigration of souls in the German-speaking world was the doctor Georg von Wedekind , who tried to combine Christianity and reincarnation in a Protestant church newspaper in 1826 and in the book On Human Determination in 1828 . The philosopher Wilhelm Traugott Krug stands out among the opponents with his creed about transmigration of souls and immortality , published in 1836 . Important poets such as Friedrich Hebbel and Heinrich Heine also took up the topic. In France, the early socialists Charles Fourier and Pierre Leroux combined their political utopias with ideas of reincarnation, which was taken up in literary terms by George Sand , among others .

Arthur Schopenhauer 1859

The doctrine of reincarnation Arthur Schopenhauer formulated in 1844 in the supplementary volume to his main philosophical work The world as will and idea represents a significant new approach . In it he combined elements of Hindu and Buddhist teachings with philosophical approaches linked to Kant and Plato . According to Schopenhauer, only the unconscious will of the individual is reborn, each time "receiving a new intellect". His philosophy and in particular the doctrine of reincarnation linked to it had a profound influence on the composer Richard Wagner , in whose works the motif of the transmigration of souls was only mentioned temporarily and was later replaced by traditional Christian formulations. One of Schopenhauer's prominent recipients was the poet Wilhelm Busch , who often took up the subject of rebirth without taking a clear position himself.

Allan Kardec

The first edition of the Livre des esprits (Book of Spirits, German 1868) by the French doctor and spiritualist Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail alias Allan Kardec , in which the then extremely popular spiritualism with a doctrine of reincarnation, was published in 1857 in the first and in 1860 in a considerably expanded second edition was very momentous connected to a belief system which, from today's perspective, is accorded the status of an alternative religion. Thus (initially in France) the discourse on the topic of reincarnation shifted to the occult - esoteric area, which was associated with considerable popularization, while in science a radical materialism was meanwhile dominant, which pushed such topics to the edge in the academic area. The modern term “reincarnation” is also demonstrably used for the first time at Kardec (before that, terms such as “metempsychosis” or “palingenesis” were common).

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky 1889

To temporarily important institution in spreading the reincarnation idea is founded in 1875, developed Theosophical Society after in the published in London in 1888 major work of its co-founder Helena Blavatsky , The Secret Doctrine (German Secret Doctrine , 1899), the reincarnation an integral part of the theosophical Teaching had been raised. Although evidently inspired by Hindu and Buddhist influences, Blavatsky's doctrine of reincarnation is shaped by Europe in essential points and can be compared in particular with Neoplatonic approaches. According to her, the goal is not the absorption of the personality in nirvana , but on the contrary its progressive, self-determined development in the course of the incarnations. Other theosophists tied in with Blavatsky's representations, whereby in the German-speaking area Rudolf Steiner designed what, according to Zander, was “probably the most powerful reincarnation model” as part of his anthroposophy .

In the late 19th century, an increased interest in Buddhism and its ideas of reincarnation developed in Europe after Buddhist sources were available in translations and had been processed in religious studies. Leading representatives of the Theosophical Society such as Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott and Charles Webster Leadbeater , who converted to and propagated Buddhism, also contributed. In many cases, attempts have been made to combine elements of Buddhism with Western views, while the contradictions between Buddhist karma theory and Christian tradition and Western belief in progress only gradually became clear. In the case of Hinduism, development initially proceeded mainly in the opposite direction: important Hindu thinkers such as Vivekananda , Aurobindo Ghose and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan incorporated Western elements into their teachings and developed reform Hinduism , while the reception of Hindu teachings in the West lagged far behind that of Buddhism.

A media event that temporarily drew public attention to the topic of reincarnation, especially in the USA, was the " Bridey Murphy case ". The US American Virginia Tighe reported under hypnosis about an earlier incarnation as "Bridey Murphy" in the 19th century Century in Ireland, spoke Irish himself and gave astonishingly detailed information. A newspaper report about it caused a veritable “reincarnation fever” (pikeperch) in the USA, and a number of statements by Tighes could be confirmed by research in Ireland. Discrepancies arose, however, and in the end the case could largely be made plausible by the fact that Virginia Tighe had had intensive contact with Irish immigrants in her youth, including a woman with the maiden name Bridey Murphy.

In the 20th century, the Canadian psychiatrist Ian Stevenson (1918–2007) founded “empirical reincarnation research”. He examined children who spontaneously reported "memories" of previous lives. This research is scientifically controversial.

In the late 20th century, new religious communities and directions emerged in which ideas of reincarnation play an important role, including Universal Life , which refers to Gabriele Wittek , and neo-paganism ( Neopaganism ).

Scientific approaches

There are different scientific approaches to the subject of reincarnation.

  • Empirical reincarnation research is a. Observations made by Western researchers in the context of field research are called. More than 3,000 cases had been documented by 2018. These cases have a set of about ten common features (phenomena) that are believed to indicate a previous life (incarnation). Strong cases contain more (up to eight) of these phenomena and weak cases fewer. From the 1960s until shortly after the turn of the millennium, Ian Stevenson studied over a thousand cases of children who mostly told of previous lives between the ages of two and seven, making him a leading researcher in the field. His work and results are controversial. Authors such as Paul Edwards have examined the work of Stevenson and other cited cases and questioned their results.
  • In literary studies , research approaches that investigate the significance of transmigration of souls and reincarnation in the belief in immortality of individual authors dominate. From a discourse-theoretical and scientific-historical perspective, however, it was emphasized that with the end of the 18th century this topic was able to gain popularity in literature, because it not only affects religious aspects of faith (such as survival after death), but also to the Presentation of new poetic , epistemological and natural philosophical concepts could be used. Accordingly, terms such as "transmigration of the soul" and "palingenesis" were used around 1800 by Goethe, Lessing, Schlosser, Herder, Jean Paul etc. to describe real transmission, assimilation and development phenomena in nature and culture (such as the 'migration' of ideas from author to reader and an inheritance and development of properties in nature).


  • Michael Bergunder: ideas of reincarnation as an object of religious studies and theology. In: Theological literary newspaper. 126, 2001, pp. 701–720 ( PDF; 2.9 MB )
  • HW Bodewitz: The Hindu Doctrine of Transmigration. Its origin and background. In: Indologica Taurinensia. 23-24, 1998, pp. 583-605.
  • Klaus Butzenberger: Ancient Indian Conceptions of Man's Destiny after Death. The beginnings and the early development of transmigration. In: Berlin Indological Studies. 8-10, 1996, pp. 55-118 (part 1); 11-12, 1998, pp. 1-84 (part 2).
  • Paul Edwards : Reincarnation. A critical examination. Amherst / New York 1996.
  • Rainer Freitag: Migration of Souls in Islamic Heresy . Schwarz, Berlin 1985, ISBN 3-922968-44-9 .
  • Hermann Kochanek (Ed.): Reincarnation or Resurrection " . Herder, Freiburg 1992.
  • Ronald W. Neufeldt: Karma and Rebirth. Post Classical Developments. Albany 1986.
  • Helmut Obst: reincarnation. World history of an idea. Beck, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-58424-4
  • Wendy D. O'Flaherty (Ed.): Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Berkeley 1983.
  • Jürgen Pfestorf: Reincarnation, rebirth and resurrection in the Gospels. 2nd expanded edition. Bautz, Nordhausen 2009, ISBN 978-3-88309-493-9 .
  • Rüdiger Sachau: Western ideas of reincarnation. Kaiser, Gütersloh 1996, ISBN 3-579-02078-1
  • Perry Schmidt-Leukel (Ed.): The idea of ​​reincarnation in East and West. Diederichs, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-424-01335-8 .
  • Helmut Zander : History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, ISBN 3-89678-140-5 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Reincarnation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikibooks: Reincarnation  - Learning and Teaching Materials

Individual evidence

  1. Helmut Obst: Reincarnation - World History of an Idea , Munich 2009, p. 7.
  2. Obst, p. 7f.
  3. Helmut Zander : History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 598-602.
  4. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 25 and 31-34.
  5. Hans Wolfgang Schumann: Soul seekers versus soul deniers - The doctrines of rebirth of the Indian religions , in Perry Schmidt-Leukel (ed.): The idea of ​​reincarnation in East and West , Munich: Diederichs 1996, pp. 14–28; here pp. 23–26.
  6. Claus Oetke: "I" and the I - Analytical investigations on the Buddhist-Brahmanic atmospheric controversy , Wiesbaden 1988, quoted in Helmut Zander: History of the migration of souls in Europe Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, p. 663f.
  7. Perry Schmidt-Leukel: Reincarnation and Spiritual Progress in Traditional Buddhism , in The Idea of ​​Reinkarnation in East and West , Munich 1996, pp. 29–56, here p. 32.
  8. Schmidt-Leukel, p. 36f.
  9. Schmidt-Leukel, pp. 36-40.
  10. Schumann, p. 26; Schmidt-Leukel p. 34f.
  11. Schmidt-Leukel, pp. 30-35.
  12. Schmidt-Leukel, pp. 51-56.
  13. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, p. 119. The continuation of the quotation: “No text in world history has been so well examined, microscopic debris from any book has not been scraped together to such an extent, no work is so well documented with regard to its genesis. With all of this, not a single indication of transmigration of souls has emerged. "
  14. ^ Norbert Bischofberger: The thought of reincarnation in European antiquity and modern times , in The idea of ​​reincarnation in East and West , Munich 1996, p. 76–94, quotation p. 81f.
  15. Obst, p. 87.
  16. Fruit, p. 89.
  17. ^ Leon Morris: The Gospel according to John (New London Commentaries). 1971, p. 134f, resolves this contradiction as follows: John the Baptist was not identical to Elijah in the Old Testament, but he was the forerunner - sometimes called "Elijah".
  18. Evangelisches Lexikon für Theologie und Gemeinde , Vol. 3 (1994), p. 1682: “What is meant here is a return of the rapt hist. Prophet, not a migration of souls”.
  19. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 126–152.
  20. See Friday 9-12.
  21. Quoted after Friday 12.
  22. See Friday 12.
  23. See Friday 128-160.
  24. Carl A. Keller: Reincarnation I: Antiquity , in: Wouter J. Hanegraaff (Ed.): Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism , Brill, Leiden / Boston 2005, pp. 980f; Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 57-63. See also Walter Stettner on this and the following: The migration of souls among Greeks and Romans , Diss. Tübingen 1933, Stuttgart / Berlin 1934; Carl Hopf: Antike Seelenwanderungsvorstellungen , Diss. Leipzig 1934; Herbert Strainge Long: A Study of the Doctrine of Metempsychosis in Greece - From Pythagoras to Plato , Princeton 1948; Angelika Böhme: The doctrine of the transmigration of souls in ancient Greek and Indian philosophy - A comparison of the philosophical foundations of the Orphics, Pythagoras, Empedocles and Plato with the Upanishads, primitive Buddhism and Jainism , Diss. Düsseldorf 1989; Ioannis G. Kalogerakos: Soul and Immortality - Investigations on pre-Socraticism up to Empedocles , Stuttgart / Leipzig 1996.
  25. ^ Keller, p. 981; Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 63-66.
  26. Keller, S. 981f.
  27. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 81-119; Keller, p. 981.
  28. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 119–152.
  29. Helmut Obst : Reincarnation. World history of an idea. Beck, Munich 2009.
  30. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, p. 216.
  31. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 170-185. See also Gershom Scholem: The Jewish Mysticism in Her Main Currents, Frankfurt / Main 1957, and Migration and Sympathy of Souls in Jewish Mysticism , in: Eranos-Jahrbuch 24/1955, Zurich 1956, pp. 55–118, also contained in: From the mystical figure of the deity - studies on the basic concepts of Kabbalah , Zurich 1962, pp. 193–247.
  32. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 199-216.
  33. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 230-233.
  34. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 233-244.
  35. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 247-254.
  36. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, 257-273 and 337-341. See also Allison P. Coudert: The Impact of the Kabbalah in the Seventeenth Century: The Life and Thought of Francis Mercury Van Helmont (1614–1698) , Brill 1998.
  37. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, 11 f. and 344-352; Bischofberger, p. 84 f. See also Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: The education of the human race , Berlin 1780; Current paperback edition: dtv, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-423-02630-8 .
  38. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 352-388.
  39. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, 402-433.
  40. See introductory and under the aspect discussed here: Schmidt-Leukel et al. 1996, 95.
  41. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 440-466.
  42. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, p. 415 f. and 472 ff.
  43. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 477-494; see also Ronald W. Neufeldt: In search of utopia: Karma and rebirth in the theosophical movement , in: Karma and Rebirth - Post Classical Developments , Albany 1986, pp. 233-255.
  44. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 509-515 and 550-554.
  45. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, p. 566 f.
  46. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 567-575.
  47. Helmut Zander: History of the transmigration of souls in Europe. Alternative religious traditions from ancient times to today. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 576-579.
  48. José Pereira: Hindu theology: themes, texts, and structures. Motilal Banarsidas, 1991
  49. ^ Sue Penney: Hinduism. Heinemann, 1995.
  50. ^ John Renard : Responses to One Hundred One Questions on Hinduism. Paulist Press, 1999
  51. ^ Hermann Häring: Faith in God in a multicultural and secularized society. Münster, 2004
  52. ^ Ian Stevenson: Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation, rev. ed., McFarland 2000
  53. ^ Anthony Campbell: Paul Edwards Reincarnation: a critical examination. A book review (1999) [1] Retrieved April 4, 2014
  54. Martin Hense et al. Jutta Müller-Tamm (ed.): Poetics of the transmigration of souls . Rombach, Freiburg im Breisgau / Berlin / Vienna 2014, ISBN 978-3-7930-9773-0 .
  55. Martin Hense: "a palingenesis and metempsychosis ... formerly strange, now own thoughts" - concepts of wandering souls in philosophy and literature of the 18th century. Dissertation (Free University of Berlin). 2013, accessed September 14, 2016 .