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Taking the UFO Phenomenon Seriously — Religion, Narrative, Media and the Flying Saucer

More than half of adults and more than 75% of young Americans believe in intelligent extraterrestrial life — a level rivaling belief in God! What happens (is happening) to world religions and deeply embedded social infrastructures as they face increasing pressure to adapt to new scientific understanding of consciousness and intelligence — understandings forced through technological innovation in areas of machine learning and artificial intelligence, advances in neuroscience, increased integration of psychical research and practical occultism in mainstream discourse, and most recently by the mainstream media’s heightened focus on the physical aspects of the UFO phenomenon… These are complicated questions that kind of hurt the brain — for myself I simplified it down to thinking about the rural area that I live in and wondering: What do local Christian congregations do with flying saucers on Sunday morning? “Hasn’t the Catholic Church taken a noncommittal position on UFOs That seems to me a healthy response.” - Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation (Bantam Books, 2009) and One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life (Crown, 2014) One of the things that struck me when I started considering these areas is the level to which the hard questions about the UFO phenomenon are so easily side stepped until the UFO object is brought to the forefront of the conversation. This is brought out in Pasulka’s presentation for the symposium, The Incarnational Technological Self: The Case of the Crashed UFO Artifact, where she discusses how the presence of a ‘UFO artifact’ during her research for American Cosmic drastically changed the ways in which she considers not only the UFO question, but also the very development and integration of technology within society — the UFO object is a powerful game changer when it comes to thinking about this question. As the presentation’s abstract explains, “Over the course of a six-year ethnographic study, Dr. Pasulka interviewed successful and influential scientists in Silicon Valley, professionals, and entrepreneurs who believe in extraterrestrial intelligence, thereby disproving the common misconception that only fringe members of society believe in UFOs. She argues that widespread belief in aliens is due to a number of factors including their ubiquity in modern media like The X-Files, which can influence memory, and the realist effect produced by the search for planets that might support life, as well as alleged alien artifacts that have recently made news in outlets such as the New York Times. This discussion explores the intriguing question of how people interpret unexplainable experiences, and argues that the media technologies have helped create new religious forms, among which the belief in non-human intelligent life is one example” So what do we mean by UFO object? UFO for most is merely a vague term associated with a vague set of phenomenon with unverifiable objective existence — the “UFO” for many is nothing more than a word read in a book or an image given to them through whatever other media they are exposed to, a purely psychologized symbolic object. The ‘flying saucer’ is a mediated object, a pop-culture trope that rarely represents eye witness or experiencer accounts.

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