Who We Are

Who We Are


Photo by Edwin Roseberry  November, 1979 
The Dalai Lama tours the UVA Grounds with Dr. Ian Stevenson, (back left) and Prof. Jeffrey Hopkins (front left). Prof. Hopkins was the Dalai Lama's official interpreter from 1976 to 1996.

Who We Are

History and Description


The Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) is a unit of the Psychiatry and Neurobehavorial Sciences of the University of Virginia's Health System. It was founded in 1967, when Dr. Ian Stevenson resigned as Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry to become Director of the Division and Chester F. Carlson Professor of Psychiatry, positions he served in for the next 35 years. Early in 2002, Dr. Bruce Greyson, who has been a faculty member at DOPS since 1995 and the long-time editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies, took over as director and Carlson Professor, allowing Dr. Stevenson to devote more time to writing books and articles about his research.

In September of 2014, Dr. Greyson retired from the directorship and Dr. Jim Tucker, Bonner-Lowry Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, became the Director of the Division of Perceptual Studies. Dr. Tucker is the author of two books based on his research into the phenomena of children who claim to remember previous lives. His most recent book, Return to Life: Extraordinary cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives  was published in 2013, and his first book Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives was published in 2005.

The Division was made possible initially through the endowment of an Eminent Scholars Chair to which Dr. Stevenson was appointed. The Division's principal benefactor was the late Chester F. Carlson, the inventor of xerography, who gave the first and largest contribution of funds for the endowed professorship. At his death in 1968, Mr. Carlson also left the University a bequest for the support of the Division's work. In 1998 the University received another bequest for the Division from the estate of the late Priscilla Woolfan. These bequests help fund the two endowed professorships at DOPS; funds for the day to day operational costs of the Division must be raised from year to year. (See Funding, below.)

The Division's main purpose, and the raison d'être for its foundation, is the scientific empirical investigation of phenomena that suggest that currently accepted scientific assumptions and theories about the nature of mind or consciousness, and its relationship to matter, may be incomplete. Examples of such phenomena, sometimes called paranormal, include various types of extrasensory perception (such as telepathy), apparitions and deathbed visions (sometimes referred to as after-death communications or ADCs), poltergeists, experiences of persons who come close to death and survive (usually called near-death experiences or NDEs), out-of-body experiences (OBEs), and claimed memories of previous lives.

Despite widespread popular interest in paranormal phenomena, there is a paucity of careful scientific research into their occurrences and processes.  Our researchers are dedicated to the use of scientific methodology in their investigation of a wide range of paranormal phenomena.

University Based Research Units

DOPS is one of a little over a dozen University-based research units in the world that investigates similar paranormal phenomena. Some of the other research centers are at Princeton University, the University of Arizona, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Amsterdam, and the University of Hertfordshire   in England. The researchers at the University of Virginia's unit have a special interest in studying the evidence for survival after death.

The Division's Research Program

Although members of the Division's staff have at one time or another investigated examples of all the paranormal phenomena mentioned above (and some others not mentioned), it seemed wise to focus our efforts and resources. Therefore, in recent years the primary researchers have concentrated almost exclusively on young children who claim to remember previous lives and on near-death experiences . In studying such experiences, they have placed particular emphasis on evaluating possible explanations--normal as well as paranormal--for the experiences, by thoroughly investigating experiences reported with detailed questionnaires and (whenever possible) firsthand interviews.

DOPS has just begun a large-scale project to identify and investigate a wide variety of spontaneous paranormal experiences, with an emphasis on those relating to possible survival after death such as apparitional experiences, and deathbed visions (visions seen by dying persons, and sometimes bystanders, at or near the moment of death). In addition to identifying cases and trying to improve the evidence for these phenomena, we hope to learn more about who has such experiences and under what circumstances, and we will collect information relevant to these questions using a variety of personality and belief questionnaires. If you have had an experience or experiences along these lines that you would like to share with us, we would be most happy to hear about it/them. See Contacting Us for further information on how to submit an account of an experience.

From the Division's research, many books and articles have been published.   The articles produced by the DOPS researchers can be found scientific journals.  Other articles and books are in various stages of preparation. The staff presents papers based on their research at scientific meetings when opportunities arise. This site includes lists of the books and articles published by the Division's staff; the lists can also be obtained by writing to the Division. The site also includes a list of other books recommended (but not necessarily written) by DOPS faculty on various paranormal topics.

The Division's Activities in Teaching and Other Education

With the limited resources available, a deliberate decision was made for the focus of the Division of Perceptual Studies to be research rather than teaching as the the main contribution of the Division to this field of study. In addition, the Division's organizational affiliation with the medical school precludes its having direct responsibility for teaching leading to academic degrees. Nevertheless, the staff has engaged in a considerable amount of teaching in different ways. Graduate students have conducted research related to that of DOPS for which a member of the Division's staff has acted as an associate supervisor. Qualified graduate students may become associated with us for research toward a degree in other departments, such as Anthropology or Religious Studies, provided they satisfy all requirements of the parent department. Other students have worked at DOPS as Research Assistants and have thus been afforded an opportunity to learn about the topics of the Division's research. For several years one member of the staff held a joint appointment with the Department of Anthropology and each year taught a course in that Department. Members of the staff sometimes give lectures in other departments of the University of Virginia and at other universities or institutions. 

The Division's Staff and International Colleagues

In 2015 the Division's staff consists of 3 full-time and two semi retired research faculty members with the support of a Research Coordinator, one office manager, and various student assistants.

The staff has been greatly aided in the research by the contributions of several colleagues in other universities who, not requiring salaries from the University of Virginia, have collaborated with the Division's staff while having only their expenses paid from DOPS funds.

From its beginning the Division's staff has greatly encouraged connections with scientists and associates in other countries. Scientists from Australia, Iceland, and Japan have spent sabbatical leaves at the DOPS. Shorter visits have been made by scientists and associates from Japan, Great Britain, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Canada, and Turkey.

The Division's Facilities and the Ian Stevenson Memorial Library

DOPS occupies a separate building apart from the University's Health System campus. It has its own specialty library named for our founder Dr. Ian Stevenson. One of only nine such libraries in the world, it is a resource affiliate of the Library of Congress and the National Library of Medicine. It is a well stocked library of scholarly books and journals on paranormal phenomena. Use is restricted to scientists and qualified students and writers. The main collection must be used on the premises during weekdays, by appointment only. For further information contact the Librarian at DOPS@virginia.edu .

DOPS has modern equipment for computerized storage and analyses of data. The Division's building holds the extensive files of cases investigated by our staff and colleagues. The folders include data of more than 2,600 cases suggestive of reincarnation and more than 800 cases of persons who have come near death and survived. There are also smaller but still substantial files on cases of other kinds of paranormal phenomena, such as telepathic impressions and apparitions.

In 2008 DOPS established a state-of-the-art EEG research facility,under the direction of Dr. Edward Kelly (psychologist & neuroscientist) and Dr. Ross Dunseath (electrical engineer).  This facility, known as The Ray Westphal Neuroimaging Laboratory, includes an electromagnetically and acoustically shielded chamber, a high-quality commercial EEG data-acquisition system, and extensive software resources for analysis and modeling of multichannel physiological data.