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Erlendur Haraldsson

Erlendur Haraldsson
Fields Psychology
Institutions University of Iceland
Education Universities of Iceland, Edinburgh and Freiburg
Alma mater University of Munich
Doctoral advisor Hans Bender

Erlendur Haraldsson is a professor emeritus of psychology on the faculty of social science at the University of Iceland. He has published in various psychology and psychiatry journals. In addition, he has published parapsychology books and authored a number of papers for parapsychology journals.


  • Education 1
  • Teaching and research career 2
    • Deathbed phenomena 2.1
    • Sathya Sai Baba 2.2
  • Retirement 3
  • Books 4
  • References 5
  • Further information 6
    • Documentaries 6.1
    • Books 6.2
  • External links 7


Erlendur studied philosophy at the universities of Iceland, Edinburgh and Freiburg from 1954 to 1958 and supported himself as a writer and journalist from 1959 to 1963. He studied psychology at Freiburg and at the University of Munich, where he obtained the Dipl. Psych. in 1969. He was a research fellow at the Institute of Parapsychology in Durham, N. C. 1969–70 and did an internship in clinical psychology at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Virginia in Charlottesville, 1970–71. He received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Freiburg under parapsychologist Hans Bender in 1972.[1][2]

Teaching and research career

Erlendur worked as a research associate at the American Society for Psychical Research from 1972 to 1974. In 1973 he became a faculty member at the University of Iceland, where he advanced to Professor of Psychology in 1989. He retired from teaching in 1999.[1] He has conducted surveys of religious and folk beliefs; for example in a survey of randomly selected Icelanders conducted in 1974–75 and published in 1977 and 1978, he established that an unusually high proportion believe in the paranormal,[3] in particular in supernatural figures such as huldufólk and draugar, research built on in the 2000s by Terry Gunnell;[4] in a 1978 survey he examined the prevalence of belief in Iceland in precognitive dreams;[5][6] and in a study published in 1985 he found proportionally more reports of encounters with dead people from Iceland than any other European country.[7] He has also contributed to the cross-cultural standardization of psychological testing instruments.[8][9][10]

In addition, in 1982–83 he worked with Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia on reincarnation research. He spent a year with J. B. Rhine in Durham, North Carolina. He has coauthored studies of the personality, abilities and psychological characteristics of children who claim memories of a previous life in Sri Lanka, comparing them with paired children who did not claim such memories.[11][12]

Erlendur received the Outstanding Career Award from the Parapsychological Association and the Myers Memorial Award from the Society for Psychical Research.[13] His 2005 book Látnir í heimi lifenda (English translation The Departed Among the Living, 2012) describes surveys and follow-up investigations he conducted into alleged apparitions and related phenomena in Iceland.

Deathbed phenomena

In 1971, Erlendur co-authored with Karlis Osis the book At the Hour of Death, describing research into deathbed visions in the United States and India that they interpreted as more consistent with the hypothesis of a transition experience than with the "extinction hypothesis".[14][15] Their data collection methods drew criticism from the scientific community.[16] According to Terence Hines:

Osis and Haraldsson’s (1977) study was based on replies received from ten thousand questionnaires sent to doctors and nurses in the United States and India. Only 6.4 percent were returned. Since it was the doctors and nurses who were giving the reports, not the patients who had, presumably, actually had the experience, the reports were secondhand. This means they had passed through two highly fallible and constructive human memory systems (the doctor’s or nurse’s and the actual patient’s) before reaching Osis and Haraldsson.[17]

The psychologist James Alcock criticized the study as it was anecdotal and described their results as "unreliable and unintepretable."[18] Paul Kurtz also criticized the study, saying all of the data was second-hand and influenced by cultural expectations.[19]

Sathya Sai Baba

Haraldsson with Karlis Osis investigated the alleged miracles and paranormal powers of Sathya Sai Baba in the 1980s. He wrote the book Miracles Are My Visiting Cards (1988), also published as Modern Miracles (1997) and republished in 2013 as Modern Miracles: The Story of Sathya Sai Baba: A Modern Day Prophet which documented his investigation and research.[20][21] The book has been described as a "generally sympathetic treatment of Sai Baba".[22]

In the late 1980s the philosopher of religion David C. Lane wrote that Haraldsson's book Modern Miracles "approaches the alleged miracles of Sai Baba with a critical, but open outlook" and recommended it as "the most balanced book ever written" on the subject. Sathya Sai Baba refused to submit to testing in a controlled environment, so Haraldsson instead interviewed witnesses. Nevertheless he debunked some of his alleged miracles, such as the resurrection of Walter Cowan.[23]

Philosopher Paul Edwards noted how Haraldsson did not come to any definite conclusion about the authenticity of Baba's miracles but regarded fraud as unlikely.[24] Psychologist Janak Pandey wrote that Haraldsson was impressed by Baba but could not get him to produce any paranormal phenomena under controlled conditions.[25]

The parapsychologist Martin Johnson claimed Haraldsson had published some "remarkably naïve eyewitness-accounts of the Indian saint's feats" and was surprised Haraldsson was taking the possibility that Baba was not a fraud.[26] Daniel Bassuk Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida wrote "Haraldsson and Osis conclude that they were unable to detect any evidence of fraud, and were led to regard Satya Sai Baba's materializations as 'possibly paranormal'."[27]

The Indian skeptic Basava Premanand criticized the book as a collection of anecdotes rather than an objective scientific report,[28] and the humanist Babu Gogineni found it credulous, saying Haraldsson was "more predisposed to believe than to investigate", concluding: "The only lesson one can learn from Erlendur Haraldsson is how not to study the paranormal events."[29]


Since his retirement, Erlendur has continued to conduct research and publish articles. In 2007 he brought about the establishment of an endowment at the University of Iceland to support research "into paranormal phenomena and alleged psychic experiences in the spirit of the research [he] conducted during his career".[30][31] In 2012 with Hafliði Helgason, he published a memoir, Á vit hins ókunna, in which he discusses the results of his interviews with children who believe they recall past lives.[32] He is a frequent speaker at professional meetings, such as the convention of the American Psychological Association in Orlando, Florida, in 2012.


  • Með Uppreisnarmönnum í Kúrdistan (in Íslenska). Hafnarfjörður: Skuggsjá. 1964.  
  • Osis, Karlis; — (1977). At the Hour of Death. New York: Avon.  
  • "Miracles Are My visiting cards": An Investigative Report on the Psychic Phenomena Associated with Sathya Sai Baba. London: Century Books. 1987.  
  • —; Grof, Stanislav; Fenwick, Peter; Grosso, Michael; Tart, T. Charles; Woolger, Roger (2003). Wir Wissen Mehr als unser Gehirn. Die Grenzen des Bewusstseins Überschreiten [Thinking Beyond the Brain] (in Deutsch). Freiburg: Herder.  
  • Látnir í Heimi Lifenda: Niðurstöður Rannsóknar um Reynslu Íslendinga af Látnu Fólki (in Íslenska). Reykjavík: Háskólaútgáfan (University Press). 2005.  
  • The Departed Among the Living. An Investigative Study of Afterlife Encounters (Translated ed.). Guildford: White Crow Books. 2012.  


  1. ^ a b "Erlendur Haraldsson: Brief curriculum vitae". University of Iceland. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  2. ^ "Dr Erlendur Haraldsson" (in Icelandic). University of Iceland. Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  3. ^ Swatos, William H., Jr. (March 1984). "The Relevance of Religion: Iceland and Secularization Theory". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 23 (1): 37.  
  4. ^ KDK (23 December 2007). "Trú á álfa og drauga lifir" (PDF).  
  5. ^ "Draumasetrið Skuggsjá". Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  6. ^ Pálsson, Gísli; Durrenberger, Paul (Summer 1982). "To dream of fish: The causes of Icelandic skippers' fishing success". Journal of Anthropological Research 38 (2): 240.  
  7. ^ McClenon, James (Spring 1990). "Chinese and American Anomalous Experiences: The Role of Religiosity". Sociological Analysis 51 (1): 54.  
  8. ^ Eysenck, Sybil B.G.; Haraldsson, Erlendur (1983). "National differences in personality: Iceland and England". Psychological Reports 53: 999–1003.  
  9. ^ Haraldsson, Erlendur; Eysenck, Sybil B. G. (1987). "A Cross-Cultural Study of Personality: Icelandic and English Children". Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 31: 123–27.  
  10. ^ Konráðs, Sölvína; Haraldsson, Erlendur (1994). "The validity of using US based interest norms of the Strong Interest Inventory for a Nordic population". Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 38 (1): 65–76.  
  11. ^ Haraldsson, E. (1995). "Personality and Abilities of Children Claiming Previous-Life Memories".  
  12. ^ Haraldsson, Erlendur (2003). "Children who speak of past-life experiences: Is there a psychological explanation?" (PDF). Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 76: 55–67.  
  13. ^ Pilkington, Rosemarie (2013). Men and Women of Parapsychology, Personal Reflections. Esprit 2). San Antonio and New York: Anomalist Books. p. 161.  
  14. ^ Heaney, John J. (Summer 1983). "Recent Studies of Near-Death Experiences". Journal of Religion and Health 22 (2): 117–19.  
  15. ^ Monaghan, Charles (November 9, 1986). The Washington Post. pp. X23. 
  16. ^ Hövelmann, Gerd. (1985). Evidence for Survival from Near-Death Experiences? A Critical Appraisal. In Paul Kurtz. A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. Prometheus Books. pp. 645-684. ISBN 0-87975-300-5
  17. ^ Hines, Terence (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 102. ISBN 1-57392-979-4
  18. ^ Alcock, James. (1981). Psychology and Near-Death Experiences. In Kendrick Frazier. Paranormal Borderlands of Science. Prometheus Books. pp. 153-169. ISBN 0-87975-148-7
  19. ^  
  20. ^ Haraldsson, Erlendur (1988). Miracles Are My Visiting Cards. Sai Towers Publishing. pp. 25, 26, 63, 173. ISBN 81-86822-32-1
  21. ^ Haraldsson, Erlendur (2013). Modern Miracles: The Story of Sathya Sai Baba: A Modern Day Prophet. White Crow Books. pp. 359-365. ISBN 978-1908733252
  22. ^ Stein, Gordon. (1996). The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 654. ISBN 1-57392-021-5
  23. ^ "The Shadow of a God-Man: Exposing Sathya Sai Baba". Retrieved 2014-04-28.  Note: originally written by David C. Lane in the journal "Understanding Cults and Spiritual Movements", 1988.
  24. ^ Edwards, Paul. (1996). Reincarnation: A Critical Examination. Prometheus Books. p. 270. ISBN 1-57392-921-2
  25. ^ Pandey, Janak. (2000). Psychology in India Revisited: Developments in the Discipline. Sage Publications. p. 115
  26. ^ Hein Hoebens, Piet. (1986). Sense and Nonsense in Parapsychology. In Kendrick Frazier. (1986). Science Confronts the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. pp. 28-39. ISBN 0-87975-314-5
  27. ^ Bassuk, Daniel. (1987). Incarnation in Hinduism and Christianity: The Myth of the God-Man. Macmillan. p. 91
  28. ^ "Modern Miracles An Objective Scientific Investigation?". Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  29. ^ "Satya Sai Baba Retelling the Story". Retrieved 2014-04-26. 
  30. ^ "Nýr styrktarsjóður við Háskóla Íslands - Styrktarsjóður Erlendar Haraldssonar" (in Icelandic). University of Iceland. 2 May 2007, updated 4 November 2010. 
  31. ^ "Styrktarsjóður Erlendar Haraldssonar" (in Icelandic). University of Iceland. 8 August 2013. 
  32. ^ "Rannsakar börn sem telja sig hafa lifað áður".  

Further information


  • Past Lives: Stories of Reincarnation. Storyhouse Productions, Washington D. C. Producer Andreas Gutzeit. Broadcast in the United States on April 1, 2003 on The Learning Channel (Discovery Communications). Aired on Discovery International on December 29, 2003.
  • Reinkarnation – nur ein Mythos? Storyhouse Productions for Learning Channel and Spiegel TV. Spiegel TV in VOX and XXP, October 2002. (German version of Past Lives: Stories of Reincarnation.). A Tamil version was broadcast in Asia.
  • Children's Past Lives. A Zenith North Production for Channel Four, UK. Producer Laura Granditer. October 2000.
  • In Search of the Dead. BBC Wales in cooperation with PBS, WXXI-T Rochester, New York. Producer Jeffrey Ieverson. 1992.
  • Með Kúrdum í Irak (With Kurds in Iraq). Icelandic State Television. January 1967.


  • Hafliði Helgason. Á vit hins ókunna: endurminningar Erlendar Haraldssonar. Reykjavík: Almenna bókafélagið, 2012. ISBN 9789935426406. (Icelandic)[1]

External links

  • Official website
  • Journal Publications
  • Other Publications
  • Who is Erlendur Haraldsson? (member profile at the Parapsychological Association)
  • Photo gallery
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