I use the Catholic Encyclopedia a lot, and keep a quick link in my browser. In most cases, it gives me useful information. In this case, however, I beg to disagree on the following parts.
Although in modern times it is associated among civilized races almost exclusively with the countries of Asia and particularly with India […] and it still prevails in various forms among savage nations scattered over the globe.
The last copyright notice for the online Cathen is from 2003, but the above quote seems like written in the year of the Nihil Obstat, 1907.
They throw in a paragraph like
Advocates of metempsychosis have not been wanting in modern times, but there is none who speaks with much conviction. The greatest name is Lessing, and his critical mind seems to have been chiefly attracted to the doctrine by its illustrious history, the neglect into which it had fallen, and the inconclusiveness of the arguments used against it. It was also maintained by Fourier in France and Soame Jenyns in England. Leibnitz and others have maintained that all souls were created from the beginning of the world; but this does not involve migrations.
just before the heading "Savage races" (finding that in 2005!), but I still have doubts. I'm not prefectly happy with its description of differences between Brahmanism, and Buddhism, but I've seen much worse.
I suppose you all know that reincarnation is a popular theme in various New Age quarters all over the world. I’ve seen an ad in a newspaper from a "reincarnation therapeut" endeavouring to help people by telling them what happed in their previous lives. Reincarnation or similar views were held by, among others, Kant, Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Schopenhauer and our Swedish Selma Lagerlöf. Not exactly members of "savage nations" (or???). Say "reincarnation" today, and I think many people would think of movements like spiritists, theosophists, and anthroposophists besides New Age. It is worth mentioning, though, that modern Western believers usually only acknowledge moving to higher levels.
IMO, even the prestigious Swedish Nationalencyklopedin doesn’t get all of it right. It explains, and I use some "literal translation",
reincarnation, metempsychosis, transmigration, wandering of souls, rebirth; the belief hat the soul, following death, takes place in a new body according to the actions in a previous life. This belief exists in Hinduism and in Buddhism, despite the fact that Buddhism originally denies the existence of a soul.
Traditional Buddhist will of course only speak of rebirths.
I have made some serious efforts to research the similarities and differences between Indian religions from these aspects, but I can’t present a definite statement. Questions I’d like to address are, Is the transfer process instantaneous on death, or is there a transit hall stage, waiting for a suitable body? From the angle of view of the receiving part, when does it get its new occupant: At the moment of birth (and are there definitions stating exactly when this occurs), at conception (and how are the dreaded hungry ghosts of Buddhism conceived?), or are the first few moments of life soulless? How permanent is the caste of the newly reincarnated Hindu – can it be improved during the life of the new body, despite the fate decided by its accumulated fruits or karma? How can, for example, the Dalai Lama be reborn with that identity, if there is no soul to take on a new life, but only a collection of aggregates, dissolved on death?