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Kripal Explores the Connection Between Religion, Myticism, Superhero Culture

On Monday, Sept. 26, author Jeff Kripal spoke about his book, “Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal,” to an almost full Auerbach Auditorium in St. Mary’s Hall. The lecture was provided by the Departments of English and Religious Studies.

“I am giving a formal lecture on an informal topic,” began Kripal. He was speaking about how the pop culture icons of superheroes and the topics of popular graphic and science fiction novels were influenced by personal paranormal events experienced by the writers themselves. He gave many examples such as Ray Palmer, the creator of the superhero called “The Atom,” who could shrink himself to a tiny size. Palmer himself was short, due to stunted growth after being hit by a butcher truck at age seven. He also claimed he had superpowers, such as precognitive dreams. “He and others converted their paranormal powers to stories,” said Kripal.

Other artists have also used their characters to explain human nature. “Alan Schwartz used [his character], Batman, to explain the good and bad in people,” said Kripal, describing it as “Buddhist Batman.”

Many science fiction authors wrote about their own abduction experiences, such as Philip K. Dick and Whitley Strieber. Dick wrote a trilogy about his “resynthesis” experience, while Strieber was abducted after he had written about extraterrestrials.

According to Kripal, all of these stories relate back to ancient mythology. Kripal said, “It is a mistake to try and disentangle fact and fantasy to decide if the paranormal is real or not because of how connected they are.”

Lastly, Kripal spoke about how there are seven recurring themes in science fiction today that come from themes in ancient myths: divinization, orientation, alienation, radiation, mutation, realization, and authorization.

Senior and comic fan Jeffery Gibson said, “I really liked that he was trying to explain the paranormal beliefs and experiences of early comic book artists as inspiration for the driving force behind their artistic expression.” He further added, “At the same time it was a little disappointing because he was using it as a conveyance for his ideas about spirituality without examining what current comic books might say about spirituality.”

First year and fellow comic and science fiction fan Ben Sudbrink attended the lecture on the advice of his core seminar teacher Brad Park. “I did find what Kripal said interesting,” said Subrink. “Though I thought that he could have made his point more convincingly, and he strayed from that point on many occasions.”

Kripal’s overall message is that mystical literature has a large impact on today’s culture. His book on this topic, “Mutants and Mystics” is available to order from www.press.uchicago.edu for $29.00.

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