Tuesday, November 16, 2010

American Academy of Religion and the Paranormal

Oh, this is good; I was delighted to come across this item.  The following article addresses the question of why academics who seriously study metaphysics, philosophies, and religions just won't go there when it comes to UFOs, telepathy, or the paranormal? Even disciplines like folklore won't go too near those subjects, and when they do, it's a bit gingerly. Whether it's folklore, cultural anthropology, or another field of study that enthusiastically delves into sacred mythic studies,  the paranormal-UFO-Fortean-world- of -the- plain-weird is, if considered at all, all too frequently bubble wrapped in layers of academic justifications. Meaning, an appropriate judgement and stance must be made about these things: alien abductions and aliens and UFOs aren't really seen or experienced as is; they are figurative, metaphorical, psychological illustrations of angst, shared cultural anxieties, disassociation between the masses and the infrastructure.

Often these disciplines have nothing to with psychology or psychiatry, yet  when exploring UFOs, for example, one must behave as if they have a legitimate reason for dissecting a supernatural experience within the framework of analysis. To be fair, religious experience is also treated this way much of the time; customs, beliefs, rites, of "the folk" are treated as quaint or interesting -- anything but "real."

In the following article by Mark Oppenheimer for the
New York Times The Burning Bush They'll Buy, but Not ESP or Alien Abduction these issues are brought to light. The yearly meeting of minds at the American Academy of Religion conference in Atlanta is the focus of the article, and what Dr. Kirpal at Rice University has to say about this exclusion of the paranormal and UFOs from academia:
According to Dr. Kripal, their omission is evidence of a persistent bias among religion scholars, happy to consider the inexplicable, like miracles, as long as they fit a familiar narrative, like Judaism or Christianity.
“There is resistance in the way our universities are set up, in the elite culture of higher education,” says Dr. Kripal, 48, who grew up in Nebraska and once planned to be a Benedictine monk. “Paranormal events completely violate the epistemologies around which we have formed our own knowledge.
“The sciences study objects and use mechanistic cause models to track them. The humanities specialize in subjectivity, meaning, consciousness, art, religion. Paranormal events violate that division. They clearly involve human subjectivity, and they clearly involve objects out there.”
 In other words, it is one thing to study a miracle a thousand years old — that seems a safe question for the historian or the theologian. But what to do with people who say they were abducted by a U.F.O. last week?
The easiest way to deal with them is to dismiss them, or humiliate them, or claim they are fraudulent, or mistaken,” Dr. Kripal says.
Indeed, as we well know. While others may agree with Dr. Kirpal to a point, and, some disciplines do look into these areas, the difference is this:
Dr. Kirpal . . . is sympathetic to the possibility that the paranormal may be real — not just the product of people’s false perceptions.

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