The Biography and Professional Life of Dr. Kenneth Ring

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Ken Ring against brick backgroundI was born, roughly a thousand years ago, in San Francisco (hint: Babe Ruth swatted the last of his 714 home runs a few months before I was first swatted on my behind) and grew up in the Bay Area, mostly in Oakland. I went to the University of California at Berkeley, majoring eventually in psychology for lack of anything better to do. Upon graduating, still reluctant to work, I elected to go to graduate school and attended the University of Minnesota, as a student in social psychology, for three years before transferring to UCLA for my final year (because the professor under whom I was studying took a position there, and like a good little duckling, I followed him out to L.A., leaving the land of a thousand snows behind). However, I obtained my Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1963.


By that time, I was a young assistant professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut where I remained on the faculty until 1994. At that time I retired from teaching though I continued to work at the university as a Professor emeritus until December of 1996 when I moved back to the Bay Area where I’ve been ever since, leaving snow behind forever. Forty years in the winterness was enough for me!

When I arrived at UCONN (as everyone calls it), I was hired as a social psychologist, but by the end of the sixties, my interests had changed and began to veer toward what were then called “altered states of consciousness” and the newly emerging field of transpersonal psychology, which was concerned with their study. In 1972, I first came across an article that dealt with what we today know as near-death experiences (NDEs), though that term was not used until 1975, when Raymond Moody’s ground-breaking book, Life After Life appeared. It was actually that book that galvanized my interest in NDEs and shortly after reading it in 1976, I determined to look into this intriguing phenomenon myself.

The research that I carried out, with the help of various graduate and undergraduate students, over a period of about twelve months, beginning in 1977, led to my first book on NDEs, Life at Death, which was published in 1980. After that, there was, to resort to one of my many clichés, no turning back. In any case, by then some of us early NDE researchers had formed an organization whose aim was to professionalize the study of these experiences, and by the end of 1980, I was asked to take it over and expand it. That was how the organization now known as The International Association for Near-Death Studies came into being.

Many years later, I wrote up a brief account of the founding of IANDS for that organization, so for those of you who might be curious to know more about its beginnings, here’s the story:

IANDS FoundersLate in 1980, John Audette, who, while living in Peoria, had been single-handedly running the NDE organization that was soon to become IANDS, asked me if I would take it over for a year so that he could concentrate on doing some NDE research of his own. In December he came to visit me in Connecticut and we made the transfer then. I decided to rename the organization The International Association for Near-Death Studies, establish a journal, and generally do things my way (we didn't have a board to worry about then!), and with the help of John and Bruce Greyson (now the longtime editor of The Journal of Near-Death Studies) and a horde of good-hearted student volunteers, I did.

I first approached my department head at the University of Connecticut and managed to get an old unused office (we eventually needed three) to set up shop, and then I recruited a bunch of my students to help run it. A then-graduate student (now an English professor) named Steve Straight was one of my main assistants, and he edited the newsletter, Vital Signs. In those days before desktop publishing, everything had to be done by hand. We would stay up all night doing paste-up to get the newsletter out on time. Then, several volunteers and I would crowd into the office, affix labels, munch pizza, and cart the things over to the Post Office and send them out. A student of mine, Leah Andrews, with her faithful dog Partner, ran the office then and helped me with the mountains of correspondence that soon started flooding in. A dreamy art student named Ned Kahn (who later became a world-famous environmental artist and MacArthur grant recipient) designed the IANDS logo. We had fun, we had a wonderful esprit de corps, though some weeks I worked a hundred hours between running IANDS, teaching at the university, and shooting my mouth off at lectures around the country. I was young then. We had a ball, and we didn't spend a cent on salaries. That was what IANDS was like in the early days. Nothing would have been possible, though, without the tireless and devoted help of those students.

Ken Ring and Bruce GreysonMeanwhile, once IANDS was off and running, so was I – to do more research. During a sabbatical in the early 1980s, I wrote most of my next book, Heading Toward Omega, which was published in 1984. I continued to teach, write and research NDEs for the next several years until 1987 when I got detoured by an interest in UFO encounters, mainly because the aftereffects of these experiences seemed to be very similar in many ways to those of NDEs. So I ventured, with considerable trepidation, into the professionally dubious field of UFO studies and spent the next several years sojourning with the investigators who were then active in this area, finding my strongest sense of colleagueship, oddly enough, with those who, while taking the experiences seriously, did not take them literally. Eventually, in 1992, I published a book, The Omega Project, on my research, which did emphasize the similarities in the people who reported either NDEs or UFO encounters and suggested reasons for their commonalities. Its findings and conclusions did not exactly endear me to the UFO community, and having spent more time there than I had ever imagined, I gladly decamped in 1993, leaving both the true believers and the snows of Kilimanjaro behind.

It was good, finally, to return to the familiar and welcoming ground of NDEs, and for the next few years, I continued with renewed interest to publish and lecture on the subject, particularly once I retired from teaching after which time I was able to go on various long lecture tours abroad as I was no longer yoked to the requirements of an academic schedule.

It was during this time that I began work on my last two NDE-related projects. One was my research on NDEs in the blind, which I undertook with a graduate student, Sharon Cooper (now, after having received her doctorate, a counseling psychologist in Connecticut), and which eventuated in our book, Mindsight, which was published in 1999 (a slightly revised version is due out in January, 2008). The second resulted in my last major book on NDEs, a kind of summing up of the major insights I have gleaned from my years of study, which I entitled Lessons From The Light and which was originally published in 1998 (though it has come out in various updated versions since, the last of these appearing in 2006). On this book, I had indispensable help from my longtime friend and collaborator, Evelyn Elsaesser Valarino.

By this time, I knew I was winding down (or is it “up”?) my professional work, and in 2000, I published what was more or less my "farewell address" to the NDE field in an article in The Journal of Near-Death Studies. At that point, I folded up my tent and put myself out to pasture.

Ken with wonderful smileNo, actually, I didn’t – I just did other things with my life. I was now living in California and decided to follow some other pursuits and professional interests. Most of these won’t interest most of you who have bothered to consult this web site, but, in brief, I wrote a couple of books on classical music (composers, really) and a few memoirs (though I didn’t publish these); I even collaborated on a screenplay, but it never made it to the silver screen. In 2008, I became very interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, went to the West Bank to see things for myself and eventually collaborated with a Palestinian colleague on a book about the lives of Palestine, based on stories we collected from contemporary Palestinians. It was published in 2010, under the title Letters from Palestine: Palestinians Speak Out about Their Lives, Their Country, and the Power of Nonviolence.

Nevertheless, I have continued all these years to maintain my contacts with selected friends, colleagues and NDErs from my life as an NDE researcher and author, and have even involved myself lately, mostly covertly, in various NDE-related projects. Most recently (as of the summer of 2014), in the last year or so, I have been working with several other authors, including a couple of NDErs, on their NDE-themed books, as a kind of combination editor, mentor and soi-disant agent. This has been very rewarding for me – sort of like being a grandfather where you have all of the pleasures of doing something worthwhile but none of the responsibilities.


All the same, I had long resisted the idea of establishing a web site of my own since I was happy with being just another nameless old duffer enjoying the good life out in California. Invisibility and anonymity have its pleasures, you know, and I had grown very fond of them. But, what the hell! In the end, I succumbed to blandishments I could not refuse, so here I am. And that’s the story. Where it goes from here, who can say? I’m only going along for the ride, but don’t seem to be in control of the vehicle. All I know is that I never left NDEland behind.….

Kenneth Ring

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