PERSPECTIVES ON REINCARNATION OF RELIGIONS

My article for this issue elaborates, the topic of reincarnation is one that has fascinated me for many years, ever since a childhood tragedy led to me to reflect upon and question deeply what I had been taught on the topic of the afterlife by the religious tradition in which I was raised. That I am not alone in having a fascination with this topic is evidenced by the sheer volume of popular books and articles on the idea of rebirth produced and consumed every year. While it is a mainstream idea in those parts of the world where the Dharma traditions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism) predominate, recent opinion surveys have shown that as many as one in five Americans also profess a belief in some form of reincarnation. Scholars are not exempt from this widespread interest. Indeed, there would seem to be an upswing in scholarly interest in this topic, as the articles in this special issue indicate. This interest ranges from the historical, to the literary, to the theological and philosophical. The articles gathered here raise varying questions from equally varying perspectives on the topic of reincarnation. What do particular traditions and texts teach about reincarnation? How is reincarnation conceptualized differently in different religious and cultural contexts? These are questions of a more historical and descriptive variety. What evidence can be presented either for or against reincarnation as a really occurring phenomenon, and not merely a subject of personal belief? What philosophical or theological arguments can be marshalled either for or against the idea of reincarnation? These are questions about the veracity of claims regarding reincarnation, about whether or not there really is such a thing, and what it might mean to answer this question either affirmatively or negatively. The articles collected here take up these questions, and more, providing a broad (though I would not say comprehensive) overview of this topic. The primary focus of the articles in this collection has been upon reincarnation as approached from either Hindu or Christian perspectives. These are two traditions whose adherents have engaged with one another on this topic with some frequency. For many Hindus, some version of the doctrine of reincarnation is axiomatic, and foundational to spiritual practice. For Christians, reincarnation has been a vexed issue, with many Christians being attracted to the idea from the earliest days of the church to the present, but with the mainstream of the tradition rejecting the idea as incompatible with foundational Christian teachings. It has thus been a natural topic of Hindu-Christian polemics. Some of these polemics have been described in articles found in this collection (e.g., the articles by Nalini Bhushan, Gรฉrard Colas, and Usha Colas-Chauhan), while other articles in this collection are themselves contributions to this polemical literature (e.g., the article by Bradley Malkovsky, which argues from a Christian perspective, and my own, which argues from a Hindu perspective). Some of the articles collected here describe, in depth, articulations of rebirth that arise from particular Hindu texts and traditions (e.g., the articles of Gerald Larson, Jonathan.