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Who Wants to Live Forever?

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Explaining the Cross-Cultural Recurrence of Reincarnation Beliefs

image of Journal of Cognition and Culture

Around 30% of world cultures endorse reincarnation and 20% of contemporary Americans think that reincarnation is plausible. This paper addresses the question of why belief in reincarnation is so pervasive across geographically disparate contexts. While social scientists have provided compelling explanations of the particularistic aspects of reincarnation, less is known about the psychological foundations of such beliefs. In this paper, I review research in the cognitive science of religion to propose that selected panhuman cognitive tendencies contribute to the cross-cultural success of basic ideas in reincarnation. Together, this research suggests that extraordinary convictions, including those associated with postmortem survival, are underpinned by some of the same processes that govern mundane social cognition.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, California State University Northridge


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