The Institute for Spirituality and Health
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Spirited Words

See below for a collection of reflections, writings, essays, poems, and other contributions that the ISH community has submitted over the years. We hope you enjoy.

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Jeff Kripal’s book, Mutants & Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics and the Paranormal

By John Graham

December 5th, 2012

Jeffrey J Kripal is a historian of religions and Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University.   He is also a member of the Institute for Spirituality and Health’s Adjunct Faculty.  Kripals’ latest book is entitled, Mutants & Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal (University of Chicago Press, 2011).  On the leaf of his book Jeffrey has written, “In many ways, Twentieth-century America was the land of superheroes and science fiction, from Superman and Batman to the Fantastic Four and the X-men.  These pop-culture Juggernauts, with their “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men,” thrilled readers and audiences – and simultaneously embodied a host of our dreams and fears about modern life and the onrushing future.  To read further, click below.

The Flyleaf goes on to say, “But, that’s just scratching the surface.  In Mutants and Mystics, Kripal offers a brilliantly insightful account of how comic book heroes have helped their creators and fans alike explore and express a wealth of paranormal experiences ignored by mainstream science.  Delving deeply into the work of major figures in the field – from Jack Kirby’s cosmic superhero sagas and Philip K. Dick’s futuristic head-trips to Alan Moore’s sex magic and Whitley Strieber’s communion with visitors – Kripal shows how creators turned to science fiction to convey the reality of the inexplicable they experienced in their lives, expanded consciousness found it’s language in the metaphors of Sci-Fi – paranormal powers, occult, mutations, paradoxical time-loops, vast intergalactic intelligences, — and the deeper influences of mythology and religion that these in turn drew from.  The wildly creative work that followed caught the imaginations of millions.  Moving deftly from cold war science and Fredric Wertham’s anticomics crusade to Gnostic revelation and alien abduction, Kripal spins out a hidden history of American culture, rich with mystical themes and short through with an awareness that there are other realities far beyond our everyday understanding.   A bravura performance, beautifully illustrated and brimming over with incredible personal stories, Mutants and Mystics is that rarest of things.  A book that is guaranteed to broaden – and maybe even blow – your mind.”

Well, I was sold in the bookstore when I bought my copy.   On page 1 Kripal says, “Basically, I study and compare religions like other people study and compare political systems, novels, or movies. . . Another way of saying this is that I study how human beings come to realize that they are gods in disguise.  Or superhumans.”  He goes on to say, “In this divine-human spirit, I explore in the pages that follow some of the mythical themes and paranormal currents of American popular culture.  By mythical themes, I mean a set of tropes or story lines about the metamorphosis of the human form that are deeply indebted to the history of the religious imagination but have now taken on new scientific or parascientific forms in order to give shape to innumerable works of pulp fiction, science fiction, superhero comics and metaphysical film.  By paranormal currents, I mean the real-life mind-over-matter experiences of artists and authors that often inspire and animate these stories, reneding them both mysteriously plausible and powerfully attractive.  Essentially, what I hope to show is that what makes these particular forms of American popular culture so popular is precisely the paranormal, the paranormal here understood as a dramatic physical manifestation of the meaning and force of consciousness itself.”   To this he adds, “No wonder this stuff is so popular.  It is us.”

Wow, I can’t wait to get into Kripal’s book.  I am putting everything else aside and when I say that I mean a stack of books that I am very engaged in.  Kripal’s book has captured me as I suspect it will many.  Best seller list, here we come.

Sara Moore