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Titles of Interest: Science Fiction Theology

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James McGrath recently drew attention to this volume on his blog.

Science Fiction Theology: Beauty and the Transformation of the Sublime
(Baylor University Press, 2015)
by Alan Gregory

Science fiction imagines a universe teeming with life and thrilling possibility, but also hidden and hideous dangers. Christian theology, often a polemical target for science fiction, reflects on the plenitude out of which and for which the universe exists. In Science Fiction Theology, Alan Gregory investigates the troubled relationship between science fiction and Christianity and, in particular, how both have laid claim to the modern idea of sublimity.

To the extent that science fiction has appropriated―and reveled―in the sublime, it has persisted in a sometimes explicit, sometimes subterranean, relationship with Christian theology. From its seventeenth-century beginnings, the sublime, with its representations of immensity, has informed the imagining of God. When science fiction critiques or reinvents religion, its writers have engaged in a literary guerrilla war with Christianity over what is truly sublime and divine.

Gregory examines the sublime and its implicit theologies as they appear in early American pulp science fiction, the horror writing of H. P. Lovecraft, science fiction narratives of evolution and apocalypse, and the work of Philip K. Dick. Ironically, science fiction's tussle with Christianity hides the extent to which the sublime, especially in popular culture, serves to distort the classical Christian understanding of God, secularizing that God and rendering God's transcendence finite. But by turning from the sublime to a consideration of the beautiful, Gregory shows that both Christian and science-fictional imaginations may discover a new and surprising conversation.

Behind the scenes of AMC's HUMAN

AMC is launching a new series that explores robotics and artificial intelligence. It is called HUMANS. This behind the scenes trailer provides some background, and it looks as if it will contribute to the growing collection of science fiction addressing this important topic.

Christopher Lee Passes Away

BRITAIN-ENTERTAINMENT-CINEMA-BOND-SKYFALLTheoFantastique is sad to report the loss of yet another genre icon. Sir Christopher Lee has passed away at the age of 93. He can now reunite with Peter Cushing and Vincent Price.

Disney's Dark Side in the News

film8_1I recently came across two items that dovetail with the TheoFantastique interests in Disney and his exploration of the dark side through animation. The first is an item in USA Today titled "Walt Disney's Curious Fascination with Death." The article not only mentions projects where death is the focal point, as in The Skeleton Dance and "Night on Bald Mountain" from Fantasia, the article also quotes the work of scholar Gary Laderman to note how significant death was in other works of Disney. The article is worth exploring for those interested in Disney studies, and particularly his dark animation projects.

The second piece is news being reported in various outlets such as Verge that plans on are in the works to make "Night on Bald Mountain" into a live-action movie.

2nd call for submissions: "The Paranormal and Popular Culture"

trapped-1024x768Previously, a call for submissions was issued for a proposed volume, but we need a few more good abstracts to complete the volume.

With this second call for submissions we are are looking for proposals for essays to be included in an edited volume entitled The Paranormal and Popular Culture. Academic writers and independent scholars are invited to submit proposals spanning the wide range of topics on pop culture and the paranormal, and their connection to religion, including reflections on the full panoply of extraordinary beings (e.g. vampires, zombies, demons, ghosts, mutants, cyborgs, cryptoids, etc.) and extraordinary phenomena (e.g. psychic abilities, channeling, spontaneous combustion, magic, necromancy, etc.), as well as theoretical and/or historical reflections on supernaturalism and the paranormal, Fortean approaches to religion in popular culture.

Those interested in being considered as contributors should send an abstract to the co-editors, Darryl Caterine (cateridv@lemoyne.edu) and John Morehead (johnwmorehead@msn.com) by September 1. Our timeline is as follows: write up a proposal in September and pitch it to various publishers. Assuming we receive a timely and positive response from one or more of them, the tentative deadline for the essays would be February 2017.

"The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro" now available

978-0-7864-9595-5The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro
Critical Essays

Edited by John W. Morehead
Foreword by Doug Jones
$39.95 softcover (6 ¥ 9)
Photos, notes, bibliography, index
ISBN 978-0-7864-9595-5
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4766-2075-6 2015

Guillermo del Toro is one of the most prolific artists working in film. His directorial work includes Cronos (1993), Mimic (1997), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Hellboy II (2008) and Pacific Rim (2013). He has also worked extensively as a producer, with several screenwriting credits to his name. As a novelist he coauthored The Strain Trilogy (2009–2011), which he also developed into a television series for FX in 2014. Del Toro has spoken of the “primal, spiritual function” of his art, which gives expression to his fascination with monsters, myth, archetype, metaphor, Jungian psychology, the paranormal and religion. This collection of new essays discusses cultural, religious and literary influences on del Toro’s work and explores key themes of his films, including the child’s experience of humanity through encounters with the monstrous.

This book is now available through your local bookstore as well as Amazon.com and McFarland Publishing.

The Esoteric "Nosferatu"

nosferatu-filmadThe May 2015 issue of Fortean Times caught my eye when I was in the bookstore on Friday. On the cover was Max Shrek made up as Count Orlok in the silent horror film classic Nosferatu as the illustration for a story by Brian Robb titled "Nosferatu: The Vampire and the Occultist." As a scholar of religion, the Western esoteric tradition is an area of interest for research, and when this comes together with horror then it becomes the best of both worlds in religion and pop culture studies.

Robb's article tells the story of Albin Grau and his Prana-Film. Grau us credited with costume design for Nosferatu, but he was responsible for far more in this film. Much of his pre-production artwork found its way into promotional posters for the film (including the one in the image accompanying this post) and it also influenced the visual and conceptual elements of the rat and infection that shaped the look of Count Orlok. In addition, Prana-Film was Grau's production company. "Prana" coming from Hinduism and the Western esoteric tradition of religion and it refers to the life force or vital energy.

Grau was a practitioner of the occult that experienced a revival during the Weimar Republic in Germany, an interest fueled by the nation's defeat in World War I and the further devastation from the 1918 Spanish Flu. Robb describes Grau's esoteric involvement:

"Albin Grau's occult interests were far-reaching, but his main affiliation was to Fraternitas-Saturni, the 'Brotherhood of Saturn', a German mystical order founded in the late 1920s. Prior to that, Grau had many titles and many roles - if there was a [sic] occult group active in the early 20th century then he was probably a member. Under the alias 'Frater Pacitus', he was a Master of the Pansophical Lodge, where he first met fellow occultist Eugene Grosche. Gray was also briefly an initiatve of the Ordo Templi Orientis, or OTI, primarily associated with the 'great beast' himself, Aleister Crowley."

Robb cites the work of Raymond Owen in an online essay titled "Nosferatu and the Occult(ists)" that expands on the occult connections of Grau:

"Grau’s occultist affiliations are of considerable interest, eventually reaching even to Aleister Crowley, although that connection was tenuous in his filmmaking years. Grau was a practitioner of mystery rituals and a close associate of Heinrich Tränker, a seller of esoteric books who founded several 'pansophic' groups in Weimar Germany. Tränker’s 'Pansophia' ('all-wisdom') was a program of occultist syncretism based on the close study of arcane traditions: alchemy, freemasonry, theosophy, ritual magick, rosicrucianism, astrology, templarism, 'the hidden knowledge of the East' etc. Sometime in the early ’20s—right about the time his friend and fellow occultist Grau was launching Prana-Film and preparing to make Nosferatu—Tränker consolidated his various groups into the Grand Pansophical Lodge of the Orient—Berlin, with himself as Grand Master. Grau served under him in an office called 'Master of the Chair.'”

nosferatu11According to Robb, Grau not only included elements of esotericism in Nosferatu, but he also embedded various esoteric messages in the film. Robb did not demonstrate the latter claim to my satisfaction, but he does draw attention to a scene in the film where a contract between Orlock and the character Hutter is shown. The document only shows on screen for a few seconds, but it does include occultic symbolism.

Robb discusses the symbols and says they "are largely astrological in nature, evoking the Moon (Luna), Mars, and Saturn, as well as Satan himself. The intention was to suggest the contract with Count Orlok is actually a pact with the Devil, suggested through the use of personal sigils." Robb goes on to say that "some magical practitioners" consider the symbols on the contract authentic, but "if translated stricly according to tradition, produce something akin to gobbledegook." Unfortunately, Robb fails to provide a citation or bibliographical references for this.

This is the first time I've heard of any connection between esotericism and Nosferatu. It sounds like it might be worth pursuing with further research.

Related post:

"The Mummy (1932): Zita Johann and the Esoteric Tradition"

CFP for Edited Collection - Monstrous Moral Messengers: Supernatural Figures in Children’s Picture Books and Early Readings

The-Babadool-Pop-Up-BookCFP for Edited Collection: Monstrous Moral Messengers: Supernatural Figures in Children’s Picture Books and Early Readings

Picture books and early readers carry all the weight of parental authority, and are essential tools in the learning process for our children. With their bright pictures, they perform their function of holding the child’s attention quite well, and they are accessed freely and repeatedly. They offer children not only hours of sanctioned entertainment and carefully chosen words and concepts, they also introduce our youngest children to specific cultural norms and belief systems. What role then does the supernatural character play for children learning to “read” and interpret the values in the interplay of images, words, and authority? Is there a difference, for the child, when the protagonist shown in the picture is a werewolf, fairy, or ghost? What message is offered to a viewing child when the image of the antagonist is a vampire, troll, or god? Does the very fact that the character is supernatural alter the reading? And is it meant to alter the meaning? At this point, there is no text addressing these questions; although there is an increasing amount of scholarship regarding how the various supernatural characters (and monstrous children) reflect various adult issues when they appear within film and television. I think it is perhaps more important to understand what messages are being offered our children through the same, albeit simplified, medium of pictorial texts which offer a sanctioned teaching medium for learning the semiotics which children are praised for interpreting. This book is meant to begin the exploration of what cultural norms and morals are being offered our children in images via this medium since picture books and early readers are not just sanctioned, but encouraged.

For this collection, papers from any discipline are welcome. Focus is, however, exclusively on supernatural figures in children’s picture books and early readers. (The only exclusions are aliens, and magical entities such as talking trees, talking owls, etc.) Issues which might be explored by contributors include (but are not limited to):

* The primary purpose of the supernatural character[s] within a specific text, or series, and what it/they are teaching children
* The use of a supernatural character as harmless entertainment (is there really a picture book which doesn’t offer a moral of some sort?)
* The use of a ghost, vampire, werewolf, or other supernatural, as a stand-in for diversity. Do they work as a stand in? Why or why not? (Why not just depict the human “other?”)
* The way in which a specific moral is being offered through the use of a supernatural character
* The way the supernatural character will potentially impact the child’s view of their world
* Comparative discussion regarding how the morals in early monster tales (such as Grimm’s) are now being revised to offer a differing moral – and how/why the changes reflect new norms

Questions to get you thinking:

* Why are so many supernatural characters green?
* Are some supernatural characters depicted as “bad” while others are “good?”
* Does the color scheme used impact the child’s reading of the characters?
* In what way does adult encouragement regarding “reading” the text impact the child’s reading of the supernatural character[s]?
* Is there a different reading/interpretation of the text offered the child when the supernatural being is the protagonist or the antagonist?

Please submit a 300 word abstract and a brief scholarly bio to Leslie Ormandy at monstrousmessengers@gmail.com. The closing date for submissions is June 10, 2015. Notice of acceptance will follow by June 25, 2015 (and will include a listing of helpful readings). Complete 7000 – 8000 word essays are to be submitted by December 10, 2015 in MLA format with US spelling and punctuation.

Call for Papers - Fortean Approaches to the Study of Religion

Charles_Hoy_fort Callf or Papers -Fortean Approaches to the Study of Religion

Edited by Jack Hunter(Doctoral Candidate, Dept. Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Bristol)

Overview:

Over the course of four intriguing books (The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1925), Lo! (1931), and Wild Talents (1932), Charles Hoy Fort meticulously collected hundreds of accounts of anomalous events documented in scientific journals and newspapers, including such unusual occurrences as fish falling from the sky, poltergeists, unidentified flying objects, levitations, mysterious objects, disappearances, ball lightning, and so on. Throughout all of his works, Fort employed the philosophy of intermediatism: “that nothing is real, but that nothing is unreal: that all phenomena are approximations in one way between realness and unrealness.” Through this rigorously agnostic epistemology Fort was able to explore some exceedingly strange territory, unearthing phenomena (what he called “damned facts”), that mainstream science had rejected outright, and in so doing inspired others to employ a similarly Fortean approach in their own writings. This collection draws together scholars who have taken a Fortean approach to the study of religion, itself a category filled with a wide range of weird and anomalous accounts: from miracles, encounters with supernatural beings, and self-mortification, to stigmata, spirit possession and mystical experience.

Submissions of abstracts on areas related to the following would be greatly appreciated:

*Fortean approaches to religion.
*The paranormal in the context of religion and religious studies.
*Explorations of implications of Fortean/paranormal phenomena for the study of religion
*Relating Fortean concepts to theory, theology, etc.
*Examinations of the relevance of other Fortean writers, e.g. John Keel, John Michell, Colin Wilson, Jacques Vallee, etc. to the study of religion.
*Intermediatism
*Extraordinary religious phenomena (stigmata, spirit possession, magic, shamanism, visions, altered states of consciousness etc.)

These are just a few ideas, and I would be more than happy to hear other thoughts or suggestions for possible chapters that would fit within the general theme of the book.

Deadline for abstract submissions and expressions of interest: June 15th 2015.

If you have any ideas or questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch: discarnates@googlemail.com

The book is currently under consideration by Aporetic Press (https://aporeticpress.wordpress.com/about/)

Bio: Jack Hunter is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol. His research takes the form of an ethnographic study of contemporary trance and physical mediumship in Bristol, focusing on themes of personhood, performance, altered states of consciousness and anomalous experience. In 2010 he established Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, as a means to promote an interdisciplinary dialogue on issues relating to paranormal beliefs, experiences and phenomena. He is the editor of Paranthropology: Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal (2012) and Strange Dimensions: A Paranthropology Anthology (2015, forthcoming), both of which gather some of the best articles from the first four years of the journal. He is the author of Why People Believe in Spirits, Gods and Magic (2012), a beginner's introduction to the anthropology of the supernatural, and co-editor with Dr. David Luke of Talking With the Spirits: Ethnographies from Between the Worlds (2014).

Documentary - "Santa Muerte: The Skeleton Saint"

Andrew Chesnut has been interviewed here at TFQ previously in his work on devotion to Santa Muerte. He has recently produced this short documentary on this titled Santa Muerte: The Skeleton Saint.

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