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.

Adler, Hovland, Williams Bring Global Climate Change Issues to Light

Greenhouse gases, CO2 emissions and global warming are common words in today’s vocabulary. On Sept. 14 in Schaefer Hall, Associate Professor Charles Adler of the Physics Department, Professor Bill Williams of the Biology Department and Associate Professor Al Hovland of the Chemistry Department gave a panel discussion on those very topics for the first Natural Science and Mathematics (NS&M) Colloquium of the semester. The talk was split into three sections, with each professor having their own section concerning the energy crisis. The panel was concluded with questions from the audience.

Adler explained the laws of thermodynamics and the movement of energy. Energy flows spontaneously from high to low temperatures, which Adler said “can [be] useful to flow through an engine” but since the energy’s movement is spontaneous, it becomes useless and “puts stringent limits on the efficiency of engines.”

Since the Industrial Revolution, the CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by a third due to the increased burning of these fossil fuels. Adler compares the heating of the Earth’s atmosphere to a campfire. He calls it the “Campfire Problem.”

“What determines your warmth around a campfire? The distance you are from the fire, how thick your coat is, the type of coat you have and how big the fire is,” Adler said. “The greenhouse gas is the coat that prevents light from being radiated into space.”

Hovland spoke in depth about the oil crisis. In 2010, the global consumption of oil was 87.4 million barrels per day (mbd), which is 31.9 billion barrels per year (bby). “Those figures are projected to go up to 90.7 mbd and 33.1 bby,” said Hovland. Out of all of the oil sold and consumed, the United States uses up to about a quarter of it and the rate of consumption is increasing.

“Oil fields are dropping by 9% a year but car sales are still increasing,” said Hovland. “Can you say addicted to oil? We want oil and will go to great lengths to get it.” To back up this statement, Hovland stated that Brazil has traveled out into the Atlantic ocean to dig an oil well. The distance from the surface to the sea bottom is three miles, plus the distance from the sea bottom to the actual oil is another four miles. Brazil is going a total of seven miles underwater to find new oil.

“We will need to have 105 mbd in 2030 at the current rate of consumption,” said Hovland. “We will need to find 45 mbd more, which means we will need to find five more Saudi Arabias in the next 20 years.”

Last, Williams spoke about the ecological effects on the environment resulting from these crises. “There has been a 1.2 degree Celsius temperature increase over the past 100 years,” he said. However, there are people who are strongly opposed to these research results. Williams mentioned how Michael Mann was accused of fraud due to his research on the global temperature increase.

Evidence of temperature increase is shown in the rapid disappearance of land-locked glaciers. Williams showed a picture of a glacier in 1899, then showed a picture of the same glacier in 2003. A student asked, “Where is it?” due to how much it had melted.

“There is not [one] solution [to the crisis], there will be a hundred different solutions to solve the problem,” Adler said.

The next NS&M Colloquium, from Stanton Gill, professor and extension specialist for nurseries and greenhouses at the Central Maryland Research and Education Center at the University of Maryland, will be on Sept. 27 at 4:40 p.m. in Schaefer 109. The lecture will be called “The Scourge of the East Coast – Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and the Spotted Winged Drospholia.”

Alezandra Russell Spreads Awareness About Boys In Thai Sex Industry

Thailand is labelled as the sex capital of the world. It is the place to go and get cheap sex. However, it’s not just girls that are targeted by the industry; boys are as well. That is why Alezandra Russell started Urban Light in Thailand two years ago to offer a support system to teenage boys who are forced into prostitution. She spoke on Septemeber 20 in Library 321 about her journey with these boys.

Russell began Urban Light after her work in Washington, D.C. with the Latin American Youth Center. She told a story about how one of her students had been sold by her mother to a man from North Carolina to work as a prostitute. From then on, Russell began researching human trafficking to find out just what it was.

As defined in Russell’s presentation, human trafficking is a form on modern day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. People are often forced, tricked or deceived into commercial sex acts or different types of labor. Currently there are about 10 to 30 million slaves in the world and human trafficking generates about $32 billion annually.

“Sex tourists,” as Russell calls them, are the primary customers at bars in the Red Light district in Chiang Mai. They are usually men of all ages and martial status who come to purchase boys as young as 11. Russell has talked to many of these men and they have opened up to her. “They say ‘the boys would be starving without me’,” said Russell. “They know they can manipulate the boys with food and money, as many haven’t had a warm meal in days.”

The Urban Light youth center is a safe haven for the boys of the Red Light district, many of whom were sold by their families into the sex industry and have nowhere to go. It offers English and Life Skills classes, food and medicine drops to boys’ families, and field trips. One of the main goals of the center is to educate boys on safe sex and get them tested for HIV and other STIs. “Most of the boys don’t know how to put on a condom,” said Russell. “[Men] will offer them extra money not to use them.” Today, there have been no positive HIV results, which Russell said is a relief.

“I’ve never seen so much strength in people,” said Russell about her boys. She spends six months out of the year in Thailand and the other six here in the U.S. raising awareness.

Sophomore Khamzin Meadows travelled to Thailand this fall with economics teacher Ho Nguyen to take a class on Economics in the Sex Industry in Chiang Mai. She had the opportunity to travel to the Urban Light center and meet the boys face to face. “It’s one thing to read about the sex industry, it’s another to actually meet someone [who is] a part of it,” said Meadows. She received a tour of the Red Light district, which “really tied it all together for [her].” Today, she still works with Russell and keeps in touch with boys she met in Thailand. She is also trying to start up a pen pal system to keep in contact with them.

Nguyen met Russell through a course he teaches in Chiang Mai. “I was teaching a course on ‘The Economics of the Sex Industry in Southeast Asia’ last summer at our Thai exchange partner, Payap University, when a mutual friend put me in touch with Alez,” Nguyen said. “As part of the course, I took students to visit five different NGOs [non-governmental organizations] in Thailand who work in various aspects with sex workers [such as] HIV education & prevention, sex workers’ rights and transgender sex workers’ problems.” He added, “These boys, all of whom are Ahka, a hill tribe minority in Northern Thailand, now have a haven to which they can retreat for some stability and comfort.”

Russell said there are many ways to get involved, even if just dedicating a Facebook status to them. “The boys think no one cares,” said Russell. “The face that you guys donated an hour and a half of your time to hear their stories in the best present.” To get involved with Urban Light, go to urban-light.org or like them on Facebook.

Rebecca Hall Gives Lecture About Travels in Southeast Asia

Spending over a year in Southeast Asia, trekking through remote villages with no real idea of where to go sounds like something out of “Man vs. Wild.” But this is not a reality TV show, it’s the real life journey of Dr. Rebecca Hall, who spent time researching Buddhist art throughout the region.

Overall, Hall spent 11 months in Thai and Laos and four months in Cambodia working on her dissertation about Buddhist art, particularly textile banners hung in monasteries. She spoke last February about these banners, however this time she focused on her journey and the connections she made with locals.

Her passion for these banners began not through visiting as a tourist but through her discovery of a book called “Textiles and the Tai Experience in Southeast Asia.” She read about banners hung in Buddhist monasteries, which took her interest.  “I love when art and religion intersect,” she said.

Three to four years after the discovery she was off to Asia, unsure if the banners still existed. She knew how to speak Thai, Lao and a little bit of Khmer (the language spoken in Cambodia).

“I wandered around looking for art,” Hall said, summarizing her travels in the three countries. She wandered through villages, mountains, rivers and tested out public transportation.

“At times, I asked myself, ‘Rebecca, what are you doing?’” said Hall.

However, the beauty of the country trumped her doubts. “When I discovered that there is no uniform architecture is when I fell in love with my research,” Hall said. “The most important thing in my research was the people.”

She met monks, novices (young monks), weavers, seamstresses and just regular people, all who gave her insight into the creation and meaning of the banners. She learned that even though they are Buddhist, people that hang these banners are concerned with going to heaven. The banners represent a ladder or way to heaven.

“I hate it when people ask if they’re really Buddhist if they’re worried about Heaven,” said Hall. “To me, [the banners] are Buddhist because they are hung in a Buddhist monastery.”

Hall’s journey taught her about the deep connection the people of these countries have with their religion. She also appreciated beauty in all pieces of art, no matter who the artist.

“Beauty was the thing I took away most,” she said.

The crowd was small but they were receptive to her story. Senior Nemesis Zambrano, who is currently working on an SMP about Buddhist art, especially enjoyed it.  “I really enjoyed [her lecture] due to her enthusiasm about her work,” Zambrano said. “It gave me flashbacks of when I visited China, Vietnam and Thailand during sophomore year.”

Hall currently works at the Walters Art Museum as the Mellow Curatorial Fellow of Asian Art. She compiles research about Southeast Asian art and artifacts.

Economics professor Ho Nguyen arranged the event even though he had “no prior knowledge about Buddhist art.” In two weeks he has arranged for another speaker, Alezandra Russel, to come and talk about teenage prostitution in Thai and her organization “Urban Light” that helps teenage male prostitutes. It will be held on September 20 at 4:15 in the Library, room 321.