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The Public Humanities 2018-04-19T02:08:09+00:00

I have become very concerned about the growing anti-intellectualism of American culture and, on the other side, the very real hunger of individuals and communities outside the academy to engage in nuanced conversations about “religion.” Much of my most recent work outside the trilogy project falls here. Toward this end, I have written a textbook on comparison for the classroom and for interested professionals. I have written two books with extreme experiencers in an effort to reach the broader publics interested in abduction and near-death experiences. I have written a little manifesto on the

future of knowledge in an effort to put the sciences and the humanities in conversation. I have worked with filmmakers on different documentary films. And I have consistently engaged multiple publics, from various university and college communities on the academic lecture circuit, through professional journalists, to the blogosphere and various local Houston communities, including and especially the Jung Center of Houston. Each of these projects and publics are briefly described below.

This is a next-generation textbook that teaches the art and practice of comparison as a vital and necessary skill in our modern globalizing world. By acknowledging up front and then working with the very real spiritual, social, and emotional impact such a practice can have on individuals through a model “initiatory” structure, the textbook provides the individual reader or classroom community that chooses to take up this practice with an effective map and a clear three-part process. The intent here, then, was to create a kind of “textbook initiation” that could guide, inspire, and challenge those who wish to think seriously about religious pluralism in the modern world, from the new student coming to these materials for the first time to seasoned professionals who seek to engage the comparative method anew. Students, journalists, medical, legal, business, media, and military professionals, religious leaders, social workers and activists, psychotherapists, or the simply curious—all of these were, and are, my intended conversation partners here.

The science-fiction writer and novelist Whitley Strieber and I wrote this book together. It is a conversation on the page (with alternating chapters) toward a particular suggestion or big idea, namely, that all kinds of “impossible” things, from extra-dimensional beings to bilocation to bumps in the night, are not impossible at all. Rather, they are part of our natural world, a natural world that is immeasurably weirder, more wonderful, and probably more populated than we have so far imagined with our current categories and cultures, which are what really make these phenomena seem “impossible.” Our natural world, it turns out, may well be a super natural world. For a full chapter essay on Whitley and his remarkable life and work, see also chapter 7 of Mutants and Mystics.

This book is about a near-death experience of a Jewish woman named Elizabeth Krohn, who was struck by lightning in the fall of 1988 and subsequently experienced both a life-changing near-death experience and an entire spectrum of real-world paranormal effects, from the seeing of auras and a haunted necklace to precognitive nightmares about plane crashes and earthquakes. Elizabeth and I met at a public event in the Houston Medical Center, where we were both speaking in the fall of 2015. We became friends and eventually decided to write a book together. Changed in a Flash is in two parts. In the first part, Elizabeth tells her story in her own words. In the second part, I employ the critical, comparative, and speculative tools of the history of religions to make some intellectual sense of her near-death experience and its paranormal aftermath, much of it kabbalistic in structure and origin.

This book is about the extraordinary experiences of scientists and medical professionals that “flip” them from a materialist worldview to one in which mind is fundamental, even cosmic in nature and scope. Fantastic stories pointing to the cosmic nature of consciousness are literally everywhere, from the global history of religions, through the modern near-death literature, to the popular cultural fascination with the paranormal. Scientists and medical professionals have tried to cordon these off by labeling them anecdotal or by declaring them hallucinatory or unscientific. But what happens when such epiphanies of mind happen to the scientists and doctors themselves? What happens when such professionals are “flipped” from a materialist worldview to one in which mind is fundamental, even cosmic in scope, nature, and intention? Welcome to The Flip.

FILM

At the time of this writing, I have been involved in four different documentary film projects. “Supernature: Esalen and the Human Potential” is a documentary series directed by Scott Jones based on my Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. The first episode premiered at Esalen in April of 2018. “Authors of the Impossible,” again directed by Scott, is a film based on my book of the same title. It is still in the early stages of design and production. “Love & Saucers,” directed by Brad Abrahams, is a charming and humane look at an alien abductee become painter David Huggins. “Widowville,” directed by Stephen Berkeley, looks at the lives of widows and, among other things, their dramatic encounters with their dead husbands.

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