Mark Oppenheimer, of The New York Times, profiles Jeffrey Kripal, author of Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion (2008) as well as the forthcoming Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred, who advocates that supernaturalism and paranormal phenomena be integrated into the study of religion:
What was almost impossible to find, at this orgy of intellectual curiosities [the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion], was discussion of the paranormal: ESP, premonitions, psychic powers, alien abduction and the like. This is a conference concerned with all sorts of supernatural and metaphysical claims. In panels, over coffee and during cocktail-hour quarrels, they talk of Moses at the burning bush, the virgin birth, Muhammad’s journey on a winged horse. So why nothing about, say, mental telepathy?
That is the question posed by Jeffrey J. Kripal, a professor of religion at Rice University in Houston and a renegade advocate for including the paranormal in religious studies. In his new book, “Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred” (University of Chicago Press), he tries to convince serious religion scholars that they ought to study, say, ESP or alien abduction.
Most scholars study traditions even nonbelievers are comfortable talking about, like Judaism and Christianity. And a growing number study kinds of “spirituality”: the belief in guardian angels, for example, or in an invisible force, not specific to a major religion.
But Dr. Kripal wants to go further, into supernaturalism that seems bizarre to most Westerners. His book is about four pre-eminent writers on the paranormal: the 19th-century psychical researcher Frederic Myers; Charles Fort, who died in 1932; the contemporary French ufologist Jacques Vallee, who inspired the character Claude Lacombe in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”; and his fellow ufologist Bertrand Méheust. None are widely studied, but Dr. Kripal says all prove that one can write in a sophisticated way about the paranormal.
Read the entire article here.