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Religion, Psychology, and the Paranormal: A Conversation with Jeff Kripal

What do the spiritual-but-not-religious, the paranormal, and mental health have to do with one another? We are experiencing great changes in how people express themselves as spiritual beings. “You have religious instincts and religious questions, because we’re not just our bodies,” says Kripal. “But that doesn’t mean they have to affiliate in the same way with social institutions. I think there are lots of ways for human beings to express themselves in religious or spiritual ways and I don’t think church attendance, or people sitting in a particular building on a particular day of the week, is necessarily the only way to do that.  So what will it look like? I don’t know, I don’t think we do know-I don’t think we can know.  But my guess is it’ll be much more decentralized, and much more creative.”

A change in religious institutions and the ways we seek spiritual meaning also marks a change in how we experience, interpret, and talk about paranormal events. When asked about what leads paranormal phenomena to occur, Kripal states, “I think this is where the sciences mislead us-they go looking for causes but there are no causes.  Whatever is performing those events is not working through causal mechanisms. It’s working through some wholly linguistic, meaningful process. It’s trying to convey meaning, it’s not wishing this to push that.”

In this interview, Jeff Kripal talks about the changing landscape of religious identity, the “rise of the nones,” and the many ways the paranormal pervades popular culture and daily life.

Jeffrey Kripal is the J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religion and past chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University. He is the author of six books, including Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion and Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred.


Watch a video of this conversation here!

Full interview transcript