Ian Stevenson 1918-2007

By Haraldsson, Erlendur | The Journal of Parapsychology, Spring-Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Ian Stevenson 1918-2007


Haraldsson, Erlendur, The Journal of Parapsychology


On the 8th of February, 2007, Ian Stevenson, longtime Carlson Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia Medical Center, passed away. He was a leading figure in the paranormal field for half a century and opened up a new field of inquiry. In psychical research there had been a long tradition of investigating evidence relevant to the question of life after death. Stevenson started a new field of inquiry into pheomena that might give evidence for life before birth, i.e., for the theory of reincarnation.

I first heard Ian speak at the 1968 Parapsychological Association convention in Freiburg, when he was president of the Association. Due to sickness he did not appear in person and his presidential address was played from a tape recording. A paper was also presented for him on the characteristics of cases of the reincarnation type. Both became very memorable to me.

In 1970-71 I stayed a year at his Division of Parapsychology (now of Perceptual Studies) during an internship in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia. This was the beginning of an association that lasted almost four decades. His empirical approach, his choice of research topics, and the thoroughness of his investigations all appealed very much to me. I felt enriched by every piece of work that I did with him or for him, and his personal company was always delightful. His knowledge of the field was truly exceptional and greater than that of anyone else I knew.

My first stay at the University of Virginia led to the publication of three joint papers on mediumship (Haraldsson & Stevenson, 1974, 1975a, 1975b). In the late 1980s, Ian asked me if I would be willing to conduct an independent investigation of cases of the reincarnation type, which I gladly accepted.

In the early 1970s I had already helped him by conducting a few interviews during my work with Karlis Osis in India. We also started a psychological study in India of children who claimed to remember a past life, which came abruptly to an end when I met with a car accident in India. In the 1990s I took up this thread again.

My association with Ian lasted until the end of his life. He offered me his house to stay in during a long visit to Charlottesville last winter, and by chance I happened to be present at his deathbed.

Ian was an extraordinarily hard and persistent worker. This was very noticeable to everyone who worked with him. Emily Kelly, his longtime personal assistant, has told me that once there came a questionnaire from the university enquiring about the working habits and workload of its professors. There was a question about how many hours they worked per day. Ian's reply was 12 hours per day. And how many days of the week? Seven days of the week, was his reply. This was in line with the observations of those of us who had the opportunity to work with him.

Ian was a meticulous notetaker. From the age of 17 he kept a logbook in which he recorded titles of all the books he had read. By 2003, when he stopped keeping it, they numbered 3,535, almost 53 books per year for 67 years. Paging through that logbook makes interesting reading.

Ian Stevenson was born in Montreal, Canada, on October 31, 1918. His father, John Alexander Stevenson, was born in 1883 in Scotland, where his father was a schoolmaster in Beith, a small town within an hour's drive west of Glasgow. Ian's mother was Ruth Cecilia Preston, born in 1891 in London. Later she moved to New Jersey where her mother had a second marriage. It was on a voyage from England to America that Ruth Cecilia met John Alexander. They married in 1916.

Ian attended a Montessori School and had a normal elementary schooling in Canada. During this time he was often sick with a lung problem and had to stay in bed, attended by his loving mother. While being tied to his bed, he became an avid reader. Around 1931, Ian was sent to England to attend an innovative public school in Bryanston, Dorsetshire. …

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