Jeffery Kripal [Resources]

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"There are complexities and wonderment in life we simply cannot explain. When we look to science and religion, we can't always find the answers. Have you ever experienced deja-vu, coincidences, or dreams that may have seemed real? Have you ever wondered what exactly qualifies as human consciousness? Reality vs. Abstract? So have we. Jeffrey will join us this November in a discussion to explore these and more paradoxical ways of thinking."


Edgewalker: An Interview with Jeffrey J. Kripal

In terms of integrating the full range of human experience back into scholarly discussion, what positive signs are you seeing?

Colleagues constantly come up to me after lectures, and at very prestigious universities, and say in so many words, "I am so happy you are saying these things." It is not that they think, or that I think, that I somehow have the answers. It is simply that some of us are refusing to shut up about these things. We are talking about them, writing about them, querying them with the tools of the humanities and the social sciences — with literary theory, cultural anthropology, and the history of religions. My sense is that in fact most colleagues in the humanities and the social sciences are quite open to such matters personally but are reticent to "come out of the closet," as they fear the reaction of our peers. My reply to this is simple: "But that is what tenure is for." I do not encourage younger scholars to go here, not at least directly and so flagrantly, for the same reason.

The professional parapsychologist, stage magician, and skeptic George Hansen has inspired me here. His beautiful book The Trickster and the Paranormal is a long erudite treatment of the paranormal in the light of anthropology, literary theory, and the study of religion. He convincingly demonstrates that the paranormal is marginalized for a real reason: it is marginal, that is, it is all about the edges and gaps and conceptual abysses of our culture. It is where the structures of society and rationalism break down and enter a kind of fervent liminal or in-between zone of deconstruction, anti-structure, and, hopefully, creativity. There is also a real connection here, as with the tricksters of world mythology, to deception, fraud, and trickery. Perhaps most provocatively, George also demonstrates that to seriously engage the paranormal is to invoke it, to conjure it forth.


7 Signs That You’re Becoming a Mystic Superhero

Artists have a deeply intimate relationship with mystical experiences, and one need look no further than the work of a figure like William Blake to see that the phenomenon has roots much earlier than 20th century pulp literature. However, Kripal’s book focuses on the seemingly high number of pulp writers and artists of the 20th century who have had mystical experiences, and how those experiences shaped and influenced their work. The difference between an artist and a cult leader, according to Kripal, is that while the cult leader uses a mystical experience as the foundation for a new religious movement, the artist transforms the experience into a work for all to share. Such is the dividing line between L. Ron Hubbard and Philip K. Dick.

Kripal’s book is divided between seven chaptersthe seven “mythemes” (trope or meme) of the superhero’s narrative evolution. Below is a list of those mythemes for you to reference when writing the Super-Story of your own reality.


Leaving the Garden (in search of religion): Jeffrey J. Kripal's vision of a gnostic study of religion (2008)

A third locus of tension or conflict and potential resolution (next to those of science versus religion, and psychology versus mysticism), concerns the relation between public scholarly discourse and private experience. In Roads of Excess, Kripal analyzed five major scholars of mysticism and argued that their work should be read against the background of their own mystical/erotic experiences. Because such an emphasis on intimate biographical detail could not possibly be convincing methodologically (or responsible ethically) unless the author included himself in the analysis,the book also contained a series of chapters entitled ‘‘secret talk’’, in which Kripal described his own psychological and spiritual development, including a successful psychoanalysis and several impressive mystical experiences. Likewise, although in a different way,The Serpent’s Gift deliberately situates itself in the no man’s land (which Kripal would probably consider every man’s land)where the scholar’s ‘‘objectivity’’ overlaps or merges with his personal subjectivities; here too, it comes as no surprise that the goal seems to be a resolution or higher synthesis of some kind.
To understand how that synthesis is given shape, this book should be read in tandem with Kripal’s largest monograph to date, published almost simultaneously with The Serpent’s Giftand entitled Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion(Kripal, 2007). It is the most comprehensive study so far of the famous Esalen community in Big Sur, from which emerged the ‘‘Human Potential Movement’’ of the 1960s and which has been a major focal point of ‘‘alternative’’ spirituality since that period. This book is important to understand yet another polarity that is basic to Kripal’s Serpent’s Gift, that of subjectivity versus objectivity. The presence of subjective elements and agendas in so-called objective scholarship has become a commonplace of postmodern academic discourse, certainly in the United States, and is unproblematically taken for granted in Kripal’s approach. Much more provocative is its dialectical counterpart: the suggestion that experiences and phenomena which scholars tend to dismiss as belonging to the sphere of mere subjective claims might have a much greater degree of objective reality than is commonly assumed. It is as part of such an argument that we encounter, in the final part of The Serpent’sGift, a definitely Esalenesque emphasis on (and understanding of) psychic phenomena as empirical realities that might point in the direction of the future evolution of human consciousness. In other words, the ‘‘intellectual gnosticism’’ developed in Kripal’s book not only seeks to overcome the conflict between science and religion by means of a synthesis of psychology and mysticism; it does so by trying to integrate a quintessentially American type of countercultural evolutionism in the context of a (no less American) postmodern discourse on religion.
In The Serpent’s Gift, ‘‘faith’’ clearly plays the role of the villain: a consistent strand throughout Kripal’s argument is his sharp criticism of religious dogmatism and authoritarianism, the intellectual ‘‘immaturity’’ and danger of which is emphasized again and again. The criticism of ‘‘faith’’also affects those who argue that religious studies as a discipline ‘should be about the faithful description and comparison of worldviews as members of those cultures might recognize them’(p. 12). Kripal dismisses this, quite correctly in my opinion, as ‘a kind of cultural cheerleading’(pp. 12e13), a naıve brand of political correctness which threatens to reduce the academic studyof religion (in the terms of C. Mackenzie Brown) to ‘the classroom of sympathy’ filled with‘eternal first-year college students, desperately seeking (in vain) an intellectual blessing for their precritical beliefs’ (p. 22).Over against ‘‘faith’’, Kripal places ‘‘reason’’ as the indispensable foundation for a mature and intellectually responsible study of religion: it stands for the critical methods and approaches of the modern academy, which often imply a fundamental questioning of the claims of religious believers. But crucial though it may be to the discipline, Kripal argues that the appeal to ‘‘reason’’in the study of religion is interpreted too often in terms of a ‘zero-sum game, an either-or choice’,implying that there is no alternative between the extremes of either ‘faithful description of revealed truths’ or ‘materialistic reductionism’ (p. 13).

Against the academic ‘‘classroom of sympathy’’ stands the ‘‘classroom of doubt’’, filled with ‘eternal graduate students, desperately trying(in vain) to deny the full scope of the religions, including their aesthetic beauty and their power to transform and liberate’ (p. 23).
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Excerpt from Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics and the Paranormal

...In 1942, in his classic Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, Julian encouraged his readers to own their own role in determining the “purpose of the future of man” and to cease putting human responsibilities “on to the shoulders of mythical gods or metaphysical absolutes.” In short, in a stunning example of Authorization, he suggested that we must now evolve ourselves. More radically still, well within the mytheme of Mutation this time, he wrote openly about how “there are other faculties, the bare existence of which is as yet scarcely established: and these too might be developed until they were as commonly distributed as, say musical or mathematical gifts are today. I refer to telepathy and other extrasensory activities of mind.”

Closer still was the great French philosopher, Henri Bergson. Bergson held a prestigious chair at the Ecole Normale Superieure, worked with President Woodrow Wilson to help found the League of Nations, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928. During his prime, Bergson was as famous as Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein. He was also the president of the London Society for Psychical Research in 1913. Mystics, for the philosopher, were forerunners of human evolution, and psychical powers were hints of what we might all still someday become in the future. Thus, in Creative Evolution(1907), he wrote beautifully of what he called the élan vital, a cosmic evolutionary force that reveals the universe to be, as he put it in 1932 in the very last lines of his very last book, “a machine for the making of gods.”

Well before Bergson, the Canadian doctor Richard Maurice Bucke (1837-1901) wrote an eccentric and rather erratic tome about evolution as a mystical force creating spiritual, cultural, and literary geniuses just before he died - his 1901 classic, Cosmic Consciousness. Despite its obvious flaws and historical naiveté, the book is just as obviously inspired. Accordingly, it would have a significant impact on later readers, including both of our case studies in chapter 6, fantasy artist Barry Windsor-Smith and sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. Given this, and Bucke’s obvious dissent from the essential randomness of accepted Darwinian biology, it seems wise to spend a bit more time on the author.

By birth, Bucke was a farm boy, by training an accomplished medical doctor and psychologist. The original inspiration for his mysticism was literary and, to be more precise, poetic. In 1867, a visitor read some Walt Whitman to him. He was stunned. Five years later, in the spring of 1872, this poetic inspiration resulted in a dramatic mystical opening in London...
Interesting article on Kripal/Striber collaboration.

Delivering the Poison Secret: Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey Kripal’s Traumatic Package

Kripal’s primary role is to provide the Strieber-material with the academic seal of approval. Yet the book, including Kripal’s contribution, is written in the sensationalist, whiz-bang, hyperbole-filled, how-can-we-top-ourselves-this-time style of all Strieber’s previous works. Although Kripal doesn’t openly express envy for Strieber’s “super natural” experiences, he practically oozes admiration for him, though whether he is sincere or not is hard to say. Much of the time he seems to be selling a product rather than exploring a mystery, and the book’s earnestness smacks, to me at least, of insincerity. In case this seems overly harsh, here are some examples. On page 195, Kripal writes:

“The fact that Whitley has in turn been rejected by the official cultures of the public media, the scientific establishment, and conservative religion for his prophetic voice does nothing to challenge such vocational reading of the ‘magical stone’ in his ear [i.e., an electrical implant Strieber received from unknown agencies]. Indeed, it only strengthens it, since this is what often happens to the prophet in western culture: he or she is rejected by the cultural elites.”
Context matters. Methods that rely on or favor extreme conditions are employed in science all the time to discover and demonstrate knowledge. As Aldous Huxley pointed out long ago in his own defense of "mystical" experiences suggestive of spirit or soul, we have no reason to deduce that water is composed of two gases glued together by invisible forces. We know this only by exposing water to extreme conditions, by traumatizing it, and then by detecting and measuring the gases with technology that no ordinary person possesses or understands. The situation is eerily analogous with impossible scenarios like those of Twain, the wife, and the Swedish seer. They are generally available only in traumatic situations, when the human being is being "boiled" in illness, stroke, coma, danger, or near-death.

Allow me to update Huxley. Nothing in our everyday experience gives us any reason to suppose that matter is not material, that it is made up of bizarre forms of energy that violate, very much like spirit, all of our normal notions of space, time, and causality.