INTERVIEW: Professor Jeffrey Kripal takes phenomena to a higher level

There’s the long-running theory that owls are somehow connected to those who have experienced the UFO phenomena. There’s a different kid of owl in Houston making connections to the unknown, religion and the UFO phenomena in way that transcends traditional thought and academia; a Rice Owl.

Jeffrey Kripal is a professor of philosophy and religious thought at the prestigious Rice University. He’s also an author who has written books about the paranormal, UFO phenomena, science fiction/superheroes, religion and mysticism, and co-authored a book with fellow famous experiencer Whitley Strieber.  Kripal is the type of academic you wish you had as a professor in college; he’s engaging, thought-provoking and lectures and writes about topics that are right in the wheelhouse for those into the unexplained.  His office is adorned with various books on the subjects of his studies (UFOs, religion, mythology), large busts of iconic comic characters like Iron Man and Magneto; a library that lands right in the middle of theism and pop culture.

This author first came familiar with Kripal’s work in the fascinating documentary “Love and Saucers,” which showcased Kripal’s comments on erotic forms of mysticism in religion, alien abduction literature (modern form of secular literature), the idea that the whole history of religions is about weird beings from sky doing things to human beings and they were framed as gods, angels and demons--- now we see it as science fiction.

After an afternoon visit to his office, Kripal talked about the ideas of “belief,” disclosure, religion, mythology, his upcoming “The Super Story,” which is described as a “poetic device to capture all of those emergent mythologies and mystical currents” with science and his thoughts on current events in the UFO world.

Jeffrey Kripal holds the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University, where he chaired the Department of Religion for eight years. (Mike Damante)

Jeffrey Kripal holds the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University, where he chaired the Department of Religion for eight years. (Mike Damante)

Q: Why is the general attitude from the scientific and most of the academic community mostly negative toward notion of unexplained and paranormal? Why is it a “pseudo-science?”

KRIPAL: “The base metaphysical system of the academy is materialism, and if everything is dead matter then none of these things could happen. They are literally impossible. The debunking and dismissal are just the functions of metaphysical commitments of people. That’s why my early work was all about the impossible, because what is impossible of course is just a function of your world view. Things that are impossible in one world view are totally possible in another. It goes back to those metaphysical assumptions, which are just assumptions and aren’t proven. “

Q: What was it like working with Whitley Strieber?

KRIPAL: “I’ve known Whitley since about 2010. He’s a friend. He’s had these experiences in spades and droves and he’s really thoughtful about them. It was very rewarding actually."

Q: There is the idea that superheroes are modern day mythology influenced by previous mythology. Do you believe that there was some truth in Greek, Egyptian and other lore that described humans with extraordinary abilities and why that notion is hard for many to swallow these days?

KRIPAL: "The superhero fascinations of Hollywood and popular culture are and are not mythology. Traditionally, mythology is something someone believes at some level and is taken seriously, and I think our superhero stories are not yet that; more forms of entertainment that are distant/ indirect forms of belief or mythology. They really haven’t risen to that level of actual mythology or belief yet. So, we can allow ourselves to entertain these ideas as fiction and fantasy , but we can’t allow ourselves to do yet as a public culture is take these abilities seriously.”

Q: Do you think this being so prevalent is part of what many believe is a slow disclosure through pop culture?

KRIPAL: “I tend to be very suspicious of every disclosure story primarily because I’ve worked in large institutions my whole life and I don’t believe for one second that large institutions could hide things. I don’t believe someone somewhere has all the knowledge and secrets; I think they are just as in the dark as we are. So, I don’t believe in disclosure stories. It’s not to say governments or institutions  don’t have patents – of course they have secrets and patents. I’m just suspicious on that line of thought. “

Q:There have been studies and theories proposed by doctors and scientists that suggest our consciousness lives on after death- do you believe this is our “soul"?

KRIPAL: “I think some part of the consciousness does survive bodily death; I’m not sure how you scientifically study that. I don’t think the scientific method is the best way to know everything; it is good for some things and bad for others. And I think that particular question could not be answered with the scientific method, but I think there is indirect evidence of both near death experiences and children who remember previous lives, which are two different forms of the afterlife. One is a heavenly journey and the other is a reincarnation story.”

Q: How do your  students react to your beliefs –especially with the abduction phenomena?

KRIPAL: “I don’t like belief; belief to me is when you assent to something you don’t actually know, and it is usually some past worldview or past institution, so I don’t ask anyone to believe. When I describe experiences I’ve had or people I’ve spoken to that have had these experiences, these are descriptions of experiences people have had and I ask my students to take those as serious as they would religious experiences. Generally, that is the question I’ve been asked the most; if I had one of these experiences because people want to know. It comes down to people and persons. You are studying something they’ve never experienced and they are suspicious of that.”

Q: What will it take to get some accepting ideas that rebel against their pre-established beliefs?

KRIPAL: "My own conviction is that these types of anomalous experiences are as common as water. They are everywhere. And there is a very thin cultural shaming that holds it down, and tricks us into thinking they are rare or crazy. For me, it is for people to start talking about the experiences no matter what they are; artists , musicians and people who create culture – then other people will jump in and other people will join in and they are no longer abnormal or shamed.”

Q: How do we challenge those to rethink their religious beliefs and see them in a different light?

KRIPAL: "This is a big question. The general answer is this; in the history of monotheism, which includes the Bible, the Bible is filled with what we would call paranormal stories. We have people telling a story with people with abilities, and it is miraculous or an act of God. If those paranormal abilities belong to another community, a competing or warring community then they are magic or witch craft. So, the exact same phenomena can be coded positively if it is within the community or negatively  if it is outside. The problem with religion is that there is always an inside and an outside. It is hard from a religious point of view to take everyone’s experiences seriously because it violates that insider-outsider thing."

Q:Your upcoming Super Story trilogy- will this mix non-fiction with fiction- and when does the line get blurred between the two- is this a bad thing?

KRIPAL:“I don’t know. I’m doing it now. It’s a 15-year project. When I proposed it, I imagined it as a science fiction novel that is also a work of scholarship.  I don’t know if it is fiction or non-fiction. It may be irrelevant when you get to the paranormal. "

Very true in the UFO world (regarding blurred lines), and it is also true in the world of religion and literary figures as well as scholars. In “Authors Of The Impossible” I make this argument that the paranormal is best approached as a story. And I don’t mean it is just a story- it really happened and it is structured LIKE a story, so it makes sense to me that it is told like a fiction story – the most effective means of communicating these things."

Q: Also how do you sell this idea (Super Story) trilogy to conventional science to buy into the mythological and mystic aspects of the study?

KRIPAL: “Well, you don’t. I mean you write what you write and you speak what you speak and  let the chips falls. The trilogy engages the history of science very deeply; the three volume are about physics, evolutionary biology and cosmology, and how those three areas of science completely transform the religious imagination in the modern world. And if you listen to people today talk about their spiritual experiences they don’t talk about going to heaven and seeing saints, they talk about entering another dimension, or spiritual evolution or they don’t talk about Jesus coming on a cloud with trumpets they talk about UFOs coming from the future. These are all religious mythos, but they are shifting dramatically as our understanding of the natural world changes. And I don’t mean myth in the sense of falsehood; these are the deepest stories we can tell about ourselves and they carry truths that can’t be communicated in any other way.”

Q: Thoughts on the current UFO stories like Pentagon UFO story and recent influx of released footage?

KRIPAL:"I’m suspicious of the threat mentality, or the threat narrative in which all of this stuff is being released. I don’t see any threats when I see the footage of the radar videos. The only threat I see, and I’ve said this other times, is the radar taking the photographs. We are the threat. I just don’t see it. If we really wanted to understand these things there wouldn’t be this secrecy and information would be released and let academics and scholars study it . That is how you learn things. You don’t learn things by trickling out pieces of information that are controlled. You learn things by just releasing it. That’s why I’m a bit frustrated by this.

( The idea of good vs bad aliens)  It’s a Cold War narrative where the UFO phenomena arose, and we need to get past that narrative or that myth. It is destructive and dangerous and not helpful."