I am pleased to recommend Strange Dimensions: A Paranthropology Anthology edited by Jack Hunter. This volume is a celebration of four years of the Paranthropology Journal, and collects together 16 of the best articles from the last two years (the first two years were covered in Paranthropology: Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, published in 2012). It includes my interview with David Hufford on sleep paralysis.
It is from the paranormal's multifaceted nature that the title of this book takes its meaning. Throughout its pages we encounter, time and again, talk of a wide variety of dimensions, levels and layers, from social, cultural, psychological and physiological dimensions, to spiritual, mythic, narrative, symbolic and experiential dimensions, and onwards to other worlds, planes of existence and realms of consciousness. The paranormal is, by its very nature, multidimensional.
"Once again, Jack Hunter takes us down the proverbial rabbit hole, here with the grace, nuance and sheer intelligence of a gifted team of essayists, each working in her or his own way toward new theories of history, consciousness, spirit, the imagination, the parapsychological, and the psychedelic. Another clear sign that there is high hope in high strangeness, and that we are entering a new era of thinking about religion, about mind, about us."
-- Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred
Table of Contents
Editor’s Introduction: Many Strange Dimensions – Jack Hunter
Foreword: Playing with the Impossible – Joseph P. Laycock
Part 1: Ethnographies of the Anomalous
1. Profane Illuminations: Machines, Indian Ghosts, and Boundless Flights Through Nature at Contemporary Paranormal Gatherings in America – Darryl V. Caterine
2. Hearing the Voice of God – Tanya M. Luhrmannn
3. Life is Not About Chasing the Wind: Investigating the Connection Between Bodily Experience, Beliefs and Transcendence Amongst Christian Surfers – Emma Ford
4. Communication Across the Chasm: Experiences With the Deceased – John A. Napora
5. The Paranormal Body: Reflections on Indian Perspectives Towards the Paranormal – Loriliai Biernacki
Part 2: Making Sense of Spiritual Experience
6. From Sleep Paralysis to Spiritual Experience: An Interview With David Hufford – John W. Morehead
7. A Matter of Spirit: An Imaginal Perspective on the Paranormal – Angela Voss
8. The Spectrum of Specters: Making Sense of Ghostly Encounters – Michael Hirsch, Jammie Price, Meghan McDonald & Mahogany Berry-Artis
9. “Spirits are the Problem”: Anthropology and Conceptualising Spiritual Beings – Jack Hunter
10. The Brain and Spiritual Experience: Towards a Neuroscientific Hermeneutic – Andrew B. Newberg
Part 3: High Strangeness
11. Playback Hex: William Burroughs and the Magical Objectivity of the Tape Recorder – James Riley
12. Crop Circles as Psychoid Manifestation: Borrowing Jung’s Analysis of UFOs to Approach the Phenomenon of the Crop Circle – William Rowlandson
13. The Para-Anthropology of UFO Abductions: The Case for the Ultraterrestrial Hypothesis – Steven Mizrach
Part 4: Consciousness, Psychedelics and Psi
14. Navigating to the Inside: First Person Science Perspectives on Consciousness and Psi – Rafael G. Locke
15. Connecting, Diverging and Reconnecting: Putting the Psi Back in Psychedelic Research – David Luke
16. A Paradigm-Breaking Hypothesis for Solving the Mind-Body Problem – Bernardo Kastrup
There has been a good bit of discussion lately on artificial intelligence in connection with religiosity. The Daily Mail has a piece titled "Will artificial intelligence be religious? Researchers say robots could someday be converted to a faith." This includes positive and negative aspects. On the latter, the piece states
If artificially intelligent robots could have souls and be converted to religion, there are concerns that they may add to conflict around the world.
Christian theologian James McGrath, writes in his essay Robots, Rights, and Religion: 'In all likelihood, if androids were inclined to be extremely liberal, they would quickly discover the selectivity of fundamentalism's self-proclaimed liberalism and reject it.
'The possibility that they might then go on to seek to enforce all the Biblical legislation in every details should indeed worry us.'
There is also a piece at Big Think titled "Experts Debate the Compatibility of AI and Religion." It overlaps somewhat with the Daily Mail piece, but it's worth looking at as well.
Matt Cardin of The Teeming Brain is a good friend and colleague in all things fantastic. I am pleased to announce one of his latest book projects, Ghosts, Spirits and Psychics: The Paranormal from Alchemy to Zombies (ABC-CLIO, 2015).
This fascinating work provides a complete overview of paranormal phenomena, including the beliefs, attitudes, and notable figures who have attempted to explain, defend, or debunk the mysteries behind the unknown.
Recent interest in the paranormal as pop culture fodder belies its historical status as an important subject of cultural, philosophical, and scientific significance. This book traces the trajectory of paranormal studies from its early role as a serious academic and scientific topic studied by mainstream scientists and eminent scholars to its current popularity in books, film, and TV.
This compelling reference work details the experiences, encounters, and ideas that make up this controversial field of study. The contributed entries examine the broad phenomena of the paranormal, addressing the history of scientific investigations along with its contemporary media depictions to illustrate the evolution of cultural attitudes about the paranormal. A selection of primary documents provides real-life accounts and contributions from noted experts that explore the full scope of themes from spiritualism to poltergeists to astrology. Accompanying images, timelines, quotations, and sidebars make the content come to life and encourage alternative explanations of these events.
* Contains more than 120 factual entries as well as extensive excerpts from several primary documents in the area of the paranormal
* Features contributions from noted experts in its field from across viewpoints—including believers and skeptics
* Profiles a number of important individuals who have contributed to the history and study of the field
* Includes such topics as near-death experiences, paranormal dreams, the supernatural, magic, and the occult
Matt Cardin is an instructor at Ranger College in Ranger, TX. His published works include ABC-CLIO's Mummies around the World: An Encyclopedia of Mummies in History, Religion, and Popular Culture; numerous articles and essays in various publications, including ABC-CLIO's Encyclopedia of the Vampire: The Living Dead in Myth, Legend, and Popular Culture; and the books Dark Awakenings and Divinations of the Deep. He holds a master's degree in religious studies and a bachelor's degree in communication.
Beyond the Monstrous: Reading from the Cultural Imaginary (Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2013), edited by Janice Zehentbauer and Eva Gledhill
Twenty-first century’s fascination with monsters in popular culture is not new. Throughout history, many of the world’s cultures have created beings they deem ‘other’ and ‘monstrous,’ beings which, many scholars agree, ultimately reveal humans’ own fears about themselves. This collection of interdisciplinary studies, Beyond the Monstrous: Readings from the Cultural Imaginary, explores constructions of the ‘monstrous’ from several vantage points, such as the popularity of today’s Twilight saga, to the hermaphrodite and questions of sexuality in seventeenth-century English print culture, and to the post-industrial ruins of Japan’s landscapes. The scholars of this text demonstrate that concepts of monstrosity frequently veil socio-political anxieties of a given culture or historical moment. More significantly, the scholars here emphasise the ethical ramifications of the ways in which humanity creates, analyses, and treats its monsters.
Introduction: Reading beyond the Monstrous
Part I: Monstrous Women
Monsters in the Shadows: Brahmin Widows in Twentieth-Century India
Sympathy for the She-Devil: Poison Women and Vengeful Ghosts in the Films of Nakagawa Nobuo
Michael E. Crandol
The Monster Inside Me: Unnatural Births in Early Modern Italian and French Fairy Tales
Part II: The Age of Monstrosity: Teens and Beyond
Narrativizing Sexual Deviance as both Symptom and Fantasy: The Perverse Sexuality of the Wolf-Child
The Lost Boys?! Monstrous Youth of the Cinematic Teenage Vampire
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Youth, Age and the Monstrosity of Beauty in The Twilight Saga
Part III: Beyond Gender
Print Culture and the Monstrous Hermaphrodite in Early Modern England
Monstrous Hermaphrodites: Jeffrey Eugenide’s Middlesex, the Intersexed Individual and the Bildungsroman
Who Mourns for Godzilla? Gojira and De-Asianization of Post-War Japan
Steven A. Nardi and Munehito Moro
Part IV: Monstrosity, Racism (and Imperialism)
Spectres of Capitalism: Ghostly Labour and the Topography of Ruin in Post-Industrial Japan
Monsters and Survivors in Oates’s Jewish American Saga
Maria Luisa Pascual-Garrido
Grave Tales, Monstrous Realities
The Monster Stares Back: How Human We Remain through Horror’s Looking Glass (Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2015), edited by Mark Chekares and Marcia Heloisa
When we look at monsters from a safe distance, it is nothing but a glance. To preserve our pristine human identity, whenever we find the monstrous Other, we search for difference, not similarity. But what happens when we allow our gaze to linger and the face staring back at us looks uncannily familiar? When we lose the alterity factor and can no longer discern the boundaries that separate ‘us’ from ‘them’? The nine chapters in this volume investigate how terrifying the Other remains after we strip its façade and discover an unsettling likeness. Also, the saturation of monster imagery and verbiage contained in contemporary literature, film, music, and popular culture solidifies it as a topic that crosses diverse borders. The authors’ interdisciplinary approaches reassess issues such as the current stand of classical monsters, the persistence of animal imagery in Horror and the domestication strategies that reshaped monstrosity.
The Other that Therefore I am: An Unsettling Likeness
Marcia Heloisa Amarante Gonçalves and Mark Chekares
Part 1 Old Monsters, New Meanings: Horror’s Collective Memory Remembered
Developing Co-Dependence between Monsters and Children in Animated Feature Films
The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: The Changing Face of the Monster
Part 2 The Monster Menagerie
Monstrous Heads on the Hero’s Body: Animal Art and Hybridity
The Devil Whisperer: Taming the Monstrous Beast in The Exorcist
Heloisa Amarante Gonçalves
Part 3 The Fearful Other
The Other(s) Uncontemplated: Monsters of the Other Side
Madness, Stigma and Religion in American Horror Story: Asylum
Jessica Rosenberg, Adrienne Rosenberg and Samuel Julio Rosenberg
Part 4 Monstrosity Revisited: Shifting Identities in Supernatural Tales
Evil Is in the Eye of the Beholder: Snow White and the Evil Queen
Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: Lycanthropy and Integrated Spaces in Contemporary Fairy Tale Adaptations
Shawn Edrei and Meyrav Koren-Kuik
‘Once Upon a Time’ and the ‘Happily Ever After’
A volume at the Patheos Book club recently caught my attention. It is The Paranormal Conspiracy: The Truth About Ghosts, Aliens and Mysterious Beings (Chosen Books, 2015) by Timothy Dailey, Ph.D. An excerpt from the book and an interview with the author are available at Patheos. From time to time we explore the paranormal at TheoFantastique, and this volume seemed like a natural one to review.
Early on in this book Dailey tells the reader what his volume is all about. He states, "Our premise is that a diabolical conspiracy is afoot: a plot to lead human hearts and souls eternally astray" (13). This includes "occult manifestations" and "the paranormal worldview" that Dailey associates with demons, resulting in a Paranormal Conspiracy, "the diabolical plot to overthrow the Judeo-Christian worldview and plunge the world into darkness and chaos not unlike that of the cinematic zombie apocalypse" (12, 13).
Dailey develops his thesis through twelve chapters of analysis of various expressions of the paranormal and aspects of Western esotericism. This includes the shamanic tales of Carlos Castaneda, Bigfoot, UFOs and the alien abduction stories of Whitley Strieber, the Theosophy of Helena Blavatsky, psychic mediums, cyber mysticism influenced by Aleister Crowley, and the mythic figure of The Trickster.
For those familiar with evangelical treatments of "the occult" and various new religious movements or "cults," Dailey's volume represents nothing new that hasn't been done in years past by authors like Walter Martin, Gary North, John Ankerberg, John Weldon, and Frank Peretti. Although some of the topics Dailey explores may be more recent than those found in previous apologetic tomes, his approach is anything but novel as he links various phenomenon together and connects them to his evangelical Christian worldview by way of the cosmic dualism of God and the devil, spiritual warfare, and counterfeit spirituality, with a strong dose of conspiracy thrown in. For evangelicals books like Dailey's provide a boundary maintenance function, identifying alleged evil phenomena, and comforting the reader with the assurance that in the end God will triumph over these spiritual forces. It's too bad that just as some scholars are starting to take a serious look at what the paranormal might mean for religion and human experience through publications like Nova Religio and Paranthropology, that this volume seeks to bypass such inquiry as theologically out of bounds. But whether one agrees with Dailey's paradigm and understanding of the paranormal or not, there are aspects of The Paranormal Conspiracy that are problematic.
First is the issue of definitions. The paranormal is a fringe area of scholarly study, and one that finds little support in the academic study of religion. For this and other reasons it is difficult to find formal definitions of the paranormal in the scholarly literature. When it comes to definitions in this area it is somewhat similar to defining art or pornography: we think we know it when we see it. Dailey's treatment is similar in this regard in that he includes various things that have come to be associated with the paranormal in popular discourse including cryptozoology (Bigfoot), UFOs, various psychic phenomena, as well as UFOs and alien abduction. But Dailey also includes certain expressions of the Western esoteric tradition in the study of new religions, including Theosophy and Helena Blavatsky, and the Thelemic magick of Aleister Crowley. All of these are included under the banner of "the paranormal," but Dailey also describes them broadly as "the occult." Distinguishing between the paranormal and the occult can often depend on who is doing the analysis, but this volume includes a major deficit by way of a failure to introduce and ground the subject matter by way of definitions and discussion of the context of religious studies and new religious movements.
Second Dailey also lacks a sense of self-awareness and self-critique in regards to what is classified as legitimate and illegitimate religious experience. As scholars like Jeffrey Kripal have noted, there is a tendency to privilege mainstream religious practices as normative and to see the paranormal as heterodox and fringe. As a result, Dailey easily dismisses the paranormal, while failing to note that glossalalia, miraculous healings, spirit possession and exorcism from the Christian tradition bear strong affinities if not parallels with paranormal experiences.
Third, like most evangelicals writing on "the occult," Dailey shows little depth by way of an awareness of the Western esoteric tradition. He writes about the occult and the "New Age," but fails to situate this within the growing body of scholarly work on Western esotericism. And while he is concerned about the popularity of paranormal beliefs, Dailey still seems to consider esotericism fringe, rather than demonstrating an awareness of it as the third major religious tradition in the West alongside Christianity and Judaism as J. Gordon Melton has noted.
Fourth, one of the chapters focuses on the shamanic volumes of Carlos Castaneda. Here Dailey's argument for a paranormal conspiracy is severely undermined as one of the links in his conspiratorial chain is suspect. Serious criticisms have been levied against Castaneda, so much so that the author is dismissed as a fraud in some circles. As Robert Marshall writes in Salon.com:
Among anthropologists, there’s no longer a debate. Professor William W. Kelly, chairman of Yale’s anthropology department, told me, “I doubt you’ll find an anthropologist of my generation who regards Castaneda as anything but a clever con man. It was a hoax, and surely don Juan never existed as anything like the figure of his books. Perhaps to many it is an amusing footnote to the gullibility of naive scholars, although to me it remains a disturbing and unforgivable breach of ethics.”
Finally, Dailey's discussion of "The Zombie Apocalypse" in Chapter 11 is extremely disappointing. He devotes two pages to the current zombie phenomenon in popular culture, but the rest of the chapter is devoted to the author's concern over "a primal fear of dark primordial forces that stalk the modern world" (163). Using this approach to zombies, Dailey misses a real opportunity to discuss the cultural, social, psychological, and theological significance of these monstrous icons in popular culture.
For those interested in more informed and balanced explorations of the paranormal and Western esotericism there are other books that will be far more helpful. These include Paranormal America by Christopher Bader, F. Carson Mencken, and Joseph Baker; Haunted Ground by Darryl Caterine; Authors of the Impossible by Jeffrey Kripal; UFO Religions edited by Christopher Partridge; and The Occult World also edited by Christopher Partridge.
"Bader, Mencken, and Baker: Paranormal America"
"Jeffrey Kripal Interview on Mutants & Mystics: Comics, Sci-Fi and the Paranormal"
"Jeffrey Kripal - Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred"
Darkness and Light reveals how Gothic architecture and anatomy inspired and influenced a literary genre, and how the lasting legacy of Gothic can be found in art, films and subculture today. From the fantastical to the macabre, this intriguing exhibition unearths Gothic treasures from the Library’s Special Collections to investigate subjects as varied as the role of women in the Gothic movement, advances in medical science and classic literature.
The exhibition also showcases artwork by students from the University of Salford and a gallery of photographic portraits of 'Goths', celebrating diversity and inviting visitors to explore what Gothic means to them.
In a previous post I discussed an article in Fortean Times that mentioned connections between Western esotericism and an individual connected to the classic silent horror film Nosferatu. Just yesterday the media, in places like The Guardian, reported about a grave robbery in the form of someone stealing the head from the corpse of Nosferatu's director, F. W. Murnau. Some of these reports are interesting not simply because of the morbid nature of the theft in connection with a horror film, but also a particular speculation being offered. As The Guardian writes:
Wax residue is said to have been found near the grave, suggesting that candles had been lit, and a possible occult motive for the theft.
The Washington Post was even more bold in its connection of the incident to alleged occult activity:
A candle left at the scene led to speculation that Murnau’s corpse was part of a ceremony staged by “Satanists” or those practicing “black magic,” as Ihlefeldt put it.
And at the conclusion:
Given the lasting power of Murnau’s creation, it’s not hard to understand why an errant German Satanist would want to make off with his skull — which is little comfort to Ihlefeldt.
This is an interesting line of reasoning from wax residue to candles to an occult motive if not an outright satanic ceremony. Isn't it possible that candles were used for lighting during the theft? Why should candle wax be tied to the occult rather than other possibilities? What occult or satanic practices and beliefs require grave robbing and the heads of dead horror directors?
It seems to me as if the media couldn't afford sensationalism in regards to this story, and that fear and satanic panic regarding "the occult" or Western esoteric tradition is alive and well.
"Expanding the Scope of Horror"; special journal issue of Interdisciplinary Humanities
Humanities Education and Research Association
Fall 2016: Expanding the Scope of Horror
Guest Editors: Edmund Cueva and William Novak
The proposed set of essays and book reviews would have as its main objective to offer a new practical model for research and analysis as an alternative to the rigid and dichotomous methodologies often used in investigations on horror. Currently, most of the scholarship either tends to situate horror on the fringe of academic research and therefore not worthy of attention. Or, research isolates and defines horror as being strictly the intellectual property of those who are experts in literature or film.
The proposed paradigm would seek to create a multidisciplinary investigatory paradigm that will bring together into productive discussion such varied disciplines as classics, art history, philosophy, architecture, psychology, religious studies, history, gender studies, music, and the traditionally associated areas of literature and film.
The special issue would serve as a starting point for future discussion and research on horror in all of its multiple and complex forms. Please send inquiries and submissions to: Edmund Cueva at email@example.com and William Nowak at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edmund Cueva at email@example.com and William Nowak at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.