Credible texts on psych behind UFO religions/cults?
February 29, 2012 2:23 AM   Subscribe

Credible academic books that look at psychology behind "UFO religions" or people that believe in ancient astronauts?

I'm not looking for an X-Files-type exploration of the possibility of ancient astronauts or alien-imported technologies, but I'm looking for credible academics/anthropologists/authors that discuss the psychology and trends behind the UFO religions.

I've seen specific books on Heaven's Gate and the like, but I'm wondering what types of credible books are out there that discuss why people are attracted to these types of religions or cults.
posted by Cwell to Religion & Philosophy (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Not quite what you asked for, but I really enjoyed the book "Abducted". The author is a psychologist who interviews people who believe they had an alien abduction experience. She writes a lot about the psychological and experiential factors that might lead someone to believe that.
posted by Bebo at 3:28 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Fortean Times gave Abducted a big thumbs up.

One of the classics is When Prophecy Fails, an old book about an apocalyptic UFO cult.

Jim Schnabel isn't an academic but a fairly even-handed journalist who writes about fringe subjects. Dark White is his book about UFO encounters and abductions.
posted by outlier at 4:34 AM on February 29, 2012

One possible phrase to search on is psychosocial hypothesis.
posted by gimonca at 5:50 AM on February 29, 2012

Best answer: Carl Jung wrote a book about flying saucers and how they constituted a living myth.
posted by jasper411 at 6:17 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This guy is an academic whose early work was about UFO religions and such. A list of his academic publications is on the linked page.
posted by lulu68 at 6:34 AM on February 29, 2012

Best answer: Carl Sagan addressed this issue at length in The Demon Haunted World.

He found it interesting not that people may have been abducted (they weren't), but that modern westerners started reporting extraterrestrials in the 1950s, while less developed cultures continued to report vampires and witches . . .
posted by General Tonic at 6:35 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Jeffery Kripal, Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred, although he's less of a debunker and more of a "Fortean" (i.e. methodological suspension of disbelief)
posted by goethean at 7:22 AM on February 29, 2012

Best answer: When Prophecy Fails is one of the canonical academic studies of the sort of thing you're talking about.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:23 AM on February 29, 2012

I believe that this is the "Abducted" book mentioned above.
posted by THAT William Mize at 7:39 AM on February 29, 2012

Best answer: You might be interested in some of the essays in Alien Worlds: Social and Religious Dimensions of Extraterrestrial Contact from Syracuse University Press.

Diana G. Tumminia, the editor of that book, has a few books and other publications close to your topic.
posted by Boxenmacher at 8:52 AM on February 29, 2012

I recently read Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion and found it interesting. She covers the transition Scientology took from a self-help course to the aliens-flying-around-volcanoes oddness it is now.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:54 AM on February 29, 2012

Unveiling Empire has a chapter covering exactly what you're looking for. The book itself offers a non-fundamentalist interpretation/historical analysis of the Book of Revelation, but an early chapter looks in depth at the rise of ghost sightings around the turn of the 20th century and UFOs in the middle of the 20th century from a sociological perspective. The author adeptly traces how these phenomenon are modern manifestations of behavior that have followed human society for a long time.
posted by helloimjohnnycash at 2:50 PM on February 29, 2012

This isn't an academic study or a psychology text, but The Fringes of Reason: A Whole Earth Catalogue is wonderful: entertaining, skeptical but engaged, and a really delightful introduction to a range of perverse elements.

It's a popular work, of course, but it's fun, if you don't already know it. And the bibliography is a bit outdated but still a good place to start.
posted by jrochest at 12:42 AM on March 1, 2012

Best answer: Coincidentally enough, I'm currently reading Thomas E. Bullard's The Myth and Mystery of UFOs (University Press of Kansas, 2010) [Publisher's page; Good review here by ex-Mefite Jenny Diski], which I'm really enjoying.

Other recommended titles: Brenda Denzler's Lure of the Edge: Scientific Passions, Religious Beliefs, and the Pursuit of UFOs (University of California Press, 2001) [Publisher's page], which is also excellent (it's written from a religious studies perspective and has great notes).

Michael Barkun's Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (University of California Press, 2003) [Publisher's page] deals at length with UFO conspiracies and the ideological and political belief structures that sustain them.

Finally, a slightly older, but still relevant title: James R. Lewis, ed., The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds (State University of New York Press, 1995) [Google Book preview]. This is a series of case studies of UFO religions from a sociological/history of religions perspective, and is full of intriguing details and insights.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:33 AM on March 1, 2012

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